Young, Black, & Woke: 6 Things I Wish I Knew as a Black Student Activist

No lie, I’m a little nostalgic from all of the back-to-school posts I’ve been seeing. On the various social media platforms I see posts from budding Black student activists and I am so excited for their journeys. I even started reminisce a bit on what my experience was like when I first started “waking up” and all the things I’m experiencing and learning now. I quickly realized there was a few things I wish I had more insight on, or maybe even a deeper conversation about with my peers.

I put this post together in the hopes that those still in school would take another look at what it means to be a Black student activist and how once graduated, “student” will be dropped from the title. I hope this post inspires those reading to keep pushing, be bold and stay woke because your community needs you to be.

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Some People don’t want to be Woke

It was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t save everyone from oppression and ignorance. No matter how many Black students I tried to harass into coming to BSU meetings and our rallies against unjust campus policies, it seemed like it was the same students coming out every time and I couldn’t understand why all Black students didn’t care like we did.

That was one of my biggest stressors when I was “waking up,” sometimes to the point of frustrated tears, and I know I’m not the only one that’s ever felt that way. When you’re woke you know that in order to rise up and truly win, we will need everyone in our community in the same book if not on the same page but to be woke also means to be realistic, and realistically not everyone will care like you do.

My advice: build, organize, and mobilize with those that have been down and the ones that are needed in this fight will come on their own terms.

Your School is a Testing Ground for Change

What I love about the school setting that I may have taken for granted is that people, their attention, and their time are so much more accessible. Campuses can be like their own little cities with a certain mile radius with people crossing familiar territory everyday within that specific bubble. It’s easier to raise awareness, organize, and mobilize in these settings because a majority of students aren’t working 9-5 or in circumstances where they have absolutely no time to get involved.

If you have the activism bug this is a great time to find what your strengths, weaknesses, and roles are in organizing. Often times these skills translate after college, plus it’s just a great experience working with peers in a similar mindset as you getting as much action done as you can.

My advice: take advantage and get involved while you can and where you can, even if it’s just for the experience. You will learn more about your cause (and the world of causes that are out there) but also about how people work and think together.

Read, Read, Read

I just wish I read more and took some of the assigned reading more seriously.

Take Time to Think about how Your Social Justice Pursuits Work with Your Major

What is unique about the Movement and generation of Black youth and activists today is the understanding that activism can take many forms and be effective through different avenues; not everyone needs to be holding a sign at a protest, not everyone needs to be delivering crowd-moving speeches, but everyone that is involved does need to be conscious of what their role is or can be.

I never thought of activism in that way, but I knew my role was in communications somehow so I majored in journalism and since I’ve graduated I’ve grown more with this role more than I did when I was in school.

My advice: Take some time once a semester/quarter, in the middle or the end, to think about where your major is going to take you career-wise and what you in this career will mean for the community. What skills or position can you leverage to address the challenges your community face? Regardless of the career you choose, if you care about uplifting the Black community you can be an asset to this fight for justice.

Chances Are, Your Post-Grad Job(s) Will Not Be Within Woke Corporations, Organizations….

On a related noted, it’s so important to establish your social justice values early on. I took a question to social media, asking what woke Black graduates have learned in their post-grad experiences and the answers tended to center around the same sentiment: recognizing that a lot of the jobs we chase with our degrees are going to be with companies and organizations that may not be as woke as we are. Even social justice organizations have their own weaknesses that can look like a lack of diversity or lack of first-hand understanding of the things people of color deal with, and so on. This can lead to feeling compromised, what happens when you’re the only Black person at your job and everyone around you is talking about the latest police killing? Are you militant with your stance in the office, or do you keep those things to your social media? Is it important that you work in an environment that’s diverse and that you can comfortably have these conversations if they come up?

My advice: Think really hard about the field you are going into and start by considering the people in your classes, remember: those people are going for the same jobs and career fields as you. Consider how different you may be from them and what would fitting in the workplace be like for you.

This Fight is Forever

I’m concluding with this because it relates a lot to the above points. Once you’re woke it’s going to be hard to turn it off. You’ll learn about one cause, which may easily be a gateway to so many other things you will care about and want to rally and force change around.

We live in a country – scratch that, we live in a world – that isn’t designed with justice for all in mind. Freedom Fighters will be fighting until the day we die, this work isn’t something we retire from. Social justice work, and simply being woke, becomes a part of who you are in ways that define you as a superhero. When you wake up, you see the world differently and eliminate the option to just “go through the motions”. You aren’t fighting solely for yourself, it doesn’t work like that. When you fight for a voiceless community, you are also making room and standing in the truth that all communities deserve agency. It sounds like a heavy load to carry, which is a lot of times why some people/companies/organizations don’t want to be woke, but someone has to do it.

My advice: find your peace and self-care outside of this work. You’re going to need it.

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So that’s it, I hope that what was shared in this post makes you think about your role in the Movement in new ways if you haven’t already. A special thanks to those that shared their reflections with me on Twitter and on Facebook.

Have you considered these things shared above? Do you have anything to add? Feel free to drop your own thoughts and reflections in the comments below.

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4 responses to “Young, Black, & Woke: 6 Things I Wish I Knew as a Black Student Activist

  1. Pingback: AG’s Intro | Haus of Soup·

  2. Pingback: Young, Black, & Woke: 6 Things I Wish I Knew as a Black Student Activist | Ebony Thought·

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