Young Black voices standing at the forefront of the movement
In Madison and across the nation, Black youth are making their voices heard.
In early June a diverse sea of people circled in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol as mosquitoes started to bite. A cool breeze came over the crowd as the sky faded to dusk. The anger and frustration from the day’s protest trickled into the night and was accompanied by great sadness. Young voices rattled off the names of people killed by the police: “Tony Robinson,” “Breonna Taylor,” “George Floyd.” The crowd followed in unison with “Too Many Names.” Black people from across Madison came to the microphone to share their experiences and their pain.
“What was impactful about that night was the fact that people are hearing their stories and they are speaking from a real place, and people could hear that and feel that,” says Ayomi Obuseh, a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin–Madison student. “That is why it was so beautiful.” This was a common scene during many June evenings downtown, where some daytime protests turned into nighttime vigils. Madison has seen many days of protests following the murder of Floyd and instances of police brutality in Madison.
On May 30, Freedom Inc., Urban Triage Inc. and the Party for Socialism and Liberation organized the protest that sparked the movement in Madison with more than 2,000 in attendance around Capitol Square. Young organizers took the lead from these community groups to create their own youth-led movement, where a wide range of voices have been heard. “There is so much power in their words,” says April Kigeya, chief operations officer of Urban Triage. “They don’t have written speeches; they are speaking from the heart and from their experiences.”
For the past several years, Freedom Inc. has galvanized youth, most notably in demanding police-free schools in Madison. According to Bianca Gomez, director of youth organizing at Freedom Inc., the nonprofit’s years of work — spanning from school advocacy to housing assistance to domestic and sexual violence assistance — made supporting youth in this movement a seamless transition. “As an adult ally [I] have a responsibility to not just listen to them, but give them control over their own liberation, because otherwise we’re just being paternalistic,” Gomez says. “They deserve control over their own liberation and they deserve control over their bodies, over their schools and over their communities.”
As young people chant “Black Lives Matter” at protests, it speaks to the reality they live in, according to the Honorable Rev. Everett Mitchell, a Dane County Circuit Court Judge. Dane County has one of the worst Black-white achievement gaps in the state and country. In Dane County, Black kids are 7.46 times more likely than white kids to get arrested. “This trauma and this pain is real that these young people are embodying, and they want some kind of systemic change so that they don’t have to keep experiencing it the way that they’ve experienced it,” Mitchell says. “So you have Black [people] and white allies who were all just kind of fed up and saying ‘enough is enough.’”
The pursuit of social justice is in the hands of young people around Madison, including the individuals you’ll read more about below. No longer asking, “Where is justice?” they’re demanding it for themselves in their own ways.
Black Youth Rise Up
Through art, demonstrations, fundraising, poetry and otherwise, young Black leaders are emerging in Madison. Meet five people who have made their voices heard.
GALLERY: Madison Mobilizes
A look at some of the events that happened in the city at the end of May through the end of June.
Timeline of Events
George Floyd’s death on May 25 sparked protests in a number of U.S. cities. Find a documented timeline of events in Madison.
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