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#BlackYouthMatter, Vol I: Celebrations and Remembrances
This Black History Month, I encourage everyone to teach children about their history. Not only that, teach children about CHILDREN in history. Too often, we ignore the accomplishments of BLPOC younger people. We dismiss them as lazy, we claim they just don’t know how it is, so they should listen to their elders. They should, but the elders should listen back. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was run in part by youth. They were putting their lives on the line when they desegregated schools, freedom rode, sat in, and marched on. It is time to give those under 25 their overdue respect and love. This is the first in four articles that will highlight the exploits of young people past and present making history in their own way:
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, “Little Miss Flint”, is a youth activist from Flint, Michigan. In 2016, when she was 8 years old, she wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama in order to draw attention the Water Crisis in her home town. Though she got to meet Obama, a few months later, she was forced to hug donald trump. Despite this tragedy, Copeny continues to use her platform to bring awareness to environmental and social issues. Copeny helped raise over $350K for children in her town through conventional fundraising and via her social networks. In 2018, Mari raised funds to screen Black Panther to underprivileged kids. Copeny often reminds adults that “we vote next”. “My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us.” For all of her efforts, Mari Copeny won a 2018 Shorty Award for “Best in Activism”, beating out the likes of Colin Kaepernick, Jameela Jamil, and Danny Glover.
Ruby Nell Bridges Hall was born the same year that Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was decided. It is fitting that she was the subject of Norman Rockwell’s 1964 painting “The Problem We All Live With”. At age 6, she was the first Black child, along with 5 others, to desegregate the all-white WIlliam Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, back in 1960. Former US Marshal Charles Burks later recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very very proud of her.” She grew up to be just as stoic and fierce an activist for human rights today.
Vanessa Nakate is a climate activist from Kampala, Uganda. In 2019, she began a solitary strike on the steps of the Parliament of Uganda that eventually grew through grassroots and social media. When asked about her motivation, she stated, “My country heavily depends on agriculture, therefore most of the people depend on agriculture. So, if our farms are destroyed by floods, if the farms are destroyed by droughts and crop production is less, that means that the price of food is going to go high. So it will only be the most privileged who will be able to buy food. And they are the biggest emitters in our countries, the ones who will be able to survive the crisis of food, whereas most of the people who live in villages and rural communities, they have trouble getting food because of the high prices. And this leads to starvation and death. Literally, in my county, a lack of rain means starvation and death for the less privileged”. For her hard work in bringing the issue of environmental awareness to Central Africa, the Associated Press cropped her out of a photo of her with four young white activists from the World Economic Forum in Davos. To their credit, the activists admonished AP’s actions. AP, however, can go straight to hell.
Cecil J. Williams is a prolific photographer. He was born in 1937 in Orangeburg, South Carolina. he received his first camera at the age of 9. By age 11, he was photographing weddings. At age 14, he was one of 25 freelance photographers for Jet Magazine. Throughout his youth, he documented the progress of the Civil Rights Movement, getting shots of school desegregation efforts, Coretta Scott King, JFK, and more. Please enjoy this picture of Cecil J. Williams at age 19 not giving a goddamn about racist drinking fountain laws. He grew up to design a photovoltaic (solar powered) house 40 years before it was popularized, and in 2015 he invented the Filmtoaster, a worldwide used device used to digitize film. A Civil Rights Museum in his hometown of Orangeburg is named after him.
Mikayla Simpson, better known as Koffee, is reggae musician and deejay from Spanish Town, Jamaica. She rose to fame after posting her first single, “Legend”, an acoustic guitar tribute to fellow Jamaican, sprinter Usain Bolt. Her single “Toast” has remained popular since 2018. At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, Koffee’s EP Rapture won Best Reggae Album, making her the youngest person (19) and first female reggae artist to win a Grammy in that category.
Nyeeam Hudson, a New Jersey native popularly known as King Nahh, started his motivational speaking career at age 10. He became a member of the Newark, NJ foundation FP YouthOutCry Foundation/H.U.B.B. Community Empowerment Center, sharpened his public speaking skills, and has since endeavored to spread positive messages of self-love and confidence to other kids and parents. He has traveled around the world with his messages with topics form school bullying to low self-esteem to dealing with sexual assault. He is now 14 and still going strong.
Marley Dias was 11 when she launched #1000BlackGirlBooks, a book drive to bring focus to books depicting black female protagonists. This came from the fatigue of her mandatory school reading list was full of white boys and their dogs. She said, “There wasn’t really any freedom for me to read what I wanted.” 2 years later, Dias won Smithsonian Magazine’s American Ingenuity Award in the Youth category. Dias later wrote and published her own book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! She is now 16.
One more thing:
Antebellum Louisiana incarcerated more Black women with life sentences than any other southern state at the time. The women would be put in the same cells as male prisoners. They would inevitably become pregnant. On December 11, 1848, the legislature passed “An Act Providing for the disposal of such slaves as are or may be born in the Penitentiary, Providing for the disposal of such slaves as are or may be born in the Penitentiary, the issue of convicts.” So from 1849 to 1861, the county sheriff auctioned eleven children on the courthouse steps for a total of $7,591. Records indicate that penitentiary employees purchased six of the eleven children. Children born in the prisons would become property of the state. They would be raised by their mothers until age 10 and then be auctioned off like impounded property. Proceeds from these sales would go to funds schools for white children.
About 29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History
29 Days of Little Known Facts About (Black) American History is an annual blog campaign curated by 540WMain that has a mission to promote and share little known facts about Black Americans throughout history every day throughout the month of February. Now in it 3rd year the campaign highlights the life and work of past and present day Black American that are overlooked or underrepresented in our conversations about American history.
540WMain will celebrate its 4 year anniversary with a party and extravaganza on Saturday June 20, 2020. In just four years the organization has become a pillar in the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood and a convener and curator of important and vital community conversations, classes, and programs. Your financial support helps us scale up this work in 2020 and beyond with a year long fundraising goal of $40,000