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SOAR takes flight: Youth protest across South Region

SOAR takes flight: Youth protest across South Region

Published: April 3, 2015
Photo: AFSC / Bryan Vana

In January, AFSC staff and youth from across the South Region led protests and a national panel discussion to confront the issue of police violence and militarization in the United States.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday served as the launch date for SOAR (South Organizing Against Racism), which inspired youth-led events in over 15 cities including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Greensboro, Miami and New Orleans.

AFSC programs, which address a wide range of issues from immigration reform to health care policy to human rights education, united to make a statement with the help of the powerful force that ties them together: our nation’s youth.

“It was a major take away for me,” declared Alyzza May, a member of the Greensboro Mural Project and USA Cooperative Youth Council. “Being part of the pseudo panel was great ... There were a lot of points of entry for folks in different ways, since we all learn/engage/process in different ways.”

Toni Etheridge, NC Peace & Economic Justice program associate, agrees with SOAR’s emphasis on lifting up youth voices. “The movement is about learning from our historical path. Then pass on the knowledge to our young people and trust their leadership.”

“Our presence in the state capital of Annapolis served as the catalyst which further ... activated victims of police brutality and their familes; students, church members and others to take a stand,” claimed Baltimore Youth Empowerment program director Farajii Muhammad.

“The energy, the spirit, all that we saw and experienced on that day showed that SOAR was right on time with this idea—but most importantly,  that the peace and justice work of AFSC is highly valuable, and greatly needed.”

Program staff, youth and participants from partnering organizations provided updates from their respective events across the region:

Baltimore, MD

Youth from Baltimore and Annapolis marched together in the Maryland's capital to address state offcials and offer statements to the press about police violence and militarization in the their communities. After returning to Baltimore and organizing a public protest, AFSC staff, youth and supporters marched to The Real News, where a town hall meeting featuring community leaders and educators was broadcast live nationwide.

Washington, D.C.

Youth Ambassadors at M.O.M.I.E.S. (Mentoring of Minorities in the Education System), a non-profit organization developing youth leadership skills in the D.C. area, led the day against police brutality. AFSC partners with M.O.M.I.E.S. to introduce to their participants human rights as a framework for them to define, analyze and take actions on issues of violence, and injustice in their communities.

Seeing that there was a fundamental problem with the actions of police brutality and the various human rights it violated, this group of youth ambassadors took a charge to help stop it. Conversations and planning begin on the premise that every person is entitled to these rights. Community members and several activists came out and shared in the advocacy with the youth.

By empowering the youth with the knowledge of their human rights, they were able to not only educate themselves but the community around them about human rights and police brutality. They are now advocating against violations of human rights through preventing and stopping human trafficking in the nation’s capital.

- Jenadee Nanini & Walter Hawes, D.C. Human Rights Learning interns

Greensboro, NC

The day encompassed a march and rally, a national livestream panel and a local community-building discussion. Supporters marched from the historically black Glenwood neighborhood to the new University of North Carolina-Greensboro police facility. The facility acts as a checkpoint between the university and a community of predominantly low income people of color on the other side of the tracks.

AFSC hosted a national livestream panel and community-building discussion at UNCG in collaboration with the Women’s & Gender Studies Department as, well as a host of other community partners.                                                                                                                          

The aim of the conversation was to talk about the issue of police brutality, but also to examine the interconnectedness of that issue to reproductive rights, economic justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrants’ rights, and the movement for justice in Palestine.

There was an amazing turnout which exceeded the room’s capacity, with a crowd of over 70 people encompassing a broad range of ethnicities, ages, gender identities, sexual orientations, residency statuses and political ideologies.

What connected supporters on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday was the commitment to eradicating the systems of injustice that disenfranchise so many of people and their loved ones. In the words of the prolific Ella Baker: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

- Holden Cession, AFSC intern

I really enjoyed the engaged dialogue. It was a nice way to provide accessibility to meeting other organizers and leaders in the area.

- Jonathan Green, member of UNCG's Queer Student Union

Miami, FL

AFIS of Miami had two activities on January 15, 2015. The first was in Homestead City, where in collaboration with members of multiple other organizations like the E.R.A. and Dream Defenders, AFSC supporters gathered to challenge the local Mayor Jeff Porter to stand with immigrant communities and come out publicly against the Department of Homeland Security’s Priorities Enforcement Program.

Additional coverage of the gathering is available via The Miami Herald.

The second event was in Fort Lauderdale, where 32 participants from different organizations including the Humanitarian Emergency Response Organization, Dream Defenders, Fort Lauderdale Friends meetings, Veye Yo Grassroots Haitian Organization and ACORN joined to brainstorm around SOAR and the issues that it confronts.

- Paul-Andre Mondesir, AFIS Haitian Community Social Advocate

New Orleans, LA

Peace by Piece and colleagues from around AFSC’s South Region hosted A Day of Action to End Police Violence, known in New Orleans as #DOA.

The event, held on January 15th, Dr. King’s birthday, took place on the campus of Dillard University, one of three of the city’s historically Black universities. Fifty students and community members gathered in the Georges Auditorium to watch a live broadcast of a national panel discussion on police violence.

Following the live broadcast was a video montage portraying police brutality all over the country. The viewings sparked meaningful conversation with audience members that included activists, Bree Richardson and Taylor Payne, from the St. Louis area who participated in the Ferguson protests after the murder of Michael Brown and the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson.

The two shared their stories of protests, pepper spray and poor portrayal of the community’s reaction by local and national media. The Ferguson activists made an even larger contribution to the event by sharing the history of police corruption and violence in their city; corruption and violence that New Orleans knows far too well.

A lively discussion ensued after moderator, Dee-1 and a panel including representatives from the Independent Police Monitor’s Office, the Voice of the Ex-Offender (VOTE) and Dillard’s student body presented Know Your Rights information and encouraged participants to take certain precautions when interacting with police.

A highly interactive event, #DOA was more quality than quantity. Participants left the space energized and ready for next steps. Surveilling law enforcement’s interaction with the public and hosting Know Your Rights actions on high school and college campuses are just a couple of measures that young people in New Orleans want to take in what we hope will be an ongoing effort to end police violence.

- Dee Dee Green, New Orleans area director