Should I laugh or cringe when reporters say that today's protests aren't new and similar protests go all the way back to the Civil Rights movement? They have now labeled those of us involved in the movement back in the 1960s as ancient history (first, it wasn't that long ago, and second, let's be clear that I was very, very young then).
Back then, I got a call from a high school classmate asking me to come downtown and join a protest. Not sure that I'd get permission, I told my dad that I was going for a walk. It was hours before I returned home, but no one commented on my absence. I was busted the next morning when he picked up the newspaper and saw our protest on the front page with the caption, "Pimple Politics." I held my breath as he turned purple, expecting to be squashed for life.
But I'm forever grateful for his response: "How dare they insult you!" I suddenly saw my future as a leader and advocate for civil rights, women's rights, human rights, and, in those days, for the end of the Vietnam War.
This week, I opened the newspaper to find a story and photograph on the front page headlined "Student protest sets off local feud." I had a deja vu moment reading how Chattanooga teens took to the streets to protest police actions against African Americans and other ongoing inequities. Some denounced the image of a fist on the event's promotional flier as violent, and several school board candidates rocketed into a full-scale battle. The politicization of the students' supposed strident attitudes happened overnight, again.
Fortunately for this emerging Generation Z of black, white and multicultural teens, they are organizing and becoming leaders. Six teenaged girls pulled off the Nashville protest against racism and police brutality. The 10,000-person protest was the largest in the Tennessee region. Today it wasn't a phone call that summoned participation; it was social media platforms. They met on Twitter, began FaceTiming one another and decided to form a coalition: Girls 4 Change. Backed by Black Lives Matter Nashville and supported by technology, the gigantic rally soon followed.
The Girls 4 Change isn't alone in leading. Almost 30,000 protesters, organized by local teens, peacefully gathered in the San Francisco Bay area.
Yet many are questioning whether the newest generation will persevere and vote in November. So much can change in the coming months, but I suspect that these young leaders will mobilize. All of us, including politicians, are aware of the impact of their protests.
I suspect that our youth also see the power of their voice and will soon include voting registration issues in their protests, especially the efforts to limit access to voting in neighborhoods of color. They have already influenced how governments, local and national, address law enforcement policies, recruiting and training. I'm sure that they'll take on economic inequalities.
Our youth will be hard hit by COVID-19 for a lifetime: education, jobs and travel as well as affordable housing, health care and retirement. Their generation is at great risk so don't be surprised when they run with what they've created.
We need their energy, leadership, creativity and engagement to design a future worthy of this country. We need to nurture and encourage our young leaders to address diversity, equity and inclusion in law enforcement and our communities, as well as our economic healing.
If we don't, the country will stagnate into a poor shadow of its former self. So tell those who confront and abuse Generation Z, "How dare you insult our future!"
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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