Q + A: Brooklyn Youth Activists on Working for Change in Their Communities (Part 2)
Brooklyn Community Foundation is committed to supporting the leadership and agency of youth in creating community change. The Brooklyn Youth Activists is a youth-led grantmaking and advocacy program that sees youth as experts and central players in making decisions around supporting youth-centered and youth-led projects. The Activists are hosting a youth conference on April 20, 2019 and have opened the application for the Youth Voice Awards.
We spoke to activists, Peace Titilawo and Alexander Davis, who are co-leading this year's cohort, about the positive and transformative work they are doing in their Brooklyn communities. (This is the second of a two part interview.)
In part two of our interviews, we hear from Alexander Davis. In his work, he focuses on healing as an alternative to criminalization and violent policing.
Let’s start with some background on you and the work you do. Can you tell me about where you got started with social justice work?
I do a lot of healing justice work in the community so that brought me here. I work with Black and Brown communities who help create change through engaging in different practices of healing. I am from and a part of many communities that make me who I am. As a member of the youth organizing collective, H.O.L.L.A leading the healing-justice movement, we focus on reaching out to young people to understand how systems harm and oppress us. We gather truth on how larger systems affect our communities and lives. With this truth we can imagine what healing looks like externally and internally. Being heard is important. Our community is a space to speak and be heard.
Can you tell us about your role as a youth fellow and activist in Brooklyn?
As an activist, I am someone who dreams and thinks infinitely. My journey has given me the opportunity to give back to my ancestors and my community. I am someone who can organize, learn and go to school, and pay homage to the people who got me here. That’s so important to me. As a leader, I believe I need to be making impactful decisions. I want to uplift people who don’t have the opportunities that I’ve had.
What does racial justice/equity mean to you?
There’s many levels of racial justice. We see this within the mission and practice of organization and spaces committed to our community’s needs and dreams. I think Black and Brown people need opportunities which give them hope. As a young person of color who deals with other young people of color, this is a way to process racial justice that is resistant. We want to give young people a space to speak and be able to share knowledge and come together. We talk about our roots and where we come from. This is important. We share resources which strengthen young people and direct them to opportunities and other organizations. It’s all about building relationships of resistance and love, especially when you think you’re alone or you don’t have anyone to lean on. It’s beautiful to have a family through different organizations and community circles. I’m primarily speaking about my work with other youth activists. The BCF Youth Activists are young people who get to know each other through building relationships. We give grants to young people doing positive work and hold conferences to talk about the issues we care about.
What does community justice mean to you? How is “place” important to your work?
Community justice is bringing love back to Black and Brown communities. The kind of love that can flourish. Our communities need places, spaces, and time to talk. Many people in our communities need resources, education, and jobs. There’s so many layers… we need to be focusing our attention on families, individuals, the way our public centers like our schools and libraries actually look, the way gentrification changes and harms our communities.... We want to heal from negative impact.
What advice do you have for others who want to get more involved in their community?
It takes a first step. We’re always in our own lives and change is really hard. We have to focus on making change and reaching out to other organizations. We need to listen / read the work of those who truly care about our communities to begin conversations about justice and healing. I think being vulnerable and sharing your thoughts with others is being courageous.
What do you bring to social justice work in Brooklyn? What is your lens?
As part of our healing justice movement, we’re working on an album. It’s comprised of rap, R&B, poetry, hip hop…. It’s coming out in the spring and is connected and directed on healing justice. We talk about our community truth based on youth data collected. We used this data to make music. I rap, sing, we all create the beats, and we manage ourselves.
I know you are both an activist and artist. Are there intersections between your art and your interest in criminal justice?
Definitely with criminal justice. I think about how policy and law enforcement can be used as a tool to harm Black and Brown bodies… As someone who has been in the incarceration system, I know that we have to heal from these problems. Our uprising comes from our connections with each other. I think about what it would look like not to have a punishment system. I think about what it would look like to protect ourselves in the community. Looking at history, white supremacy is never held accountable. I believe that what we fight against and want justice for is always connected. All justice is connected. If I’m talking about the criminal system I’m also talking about immigration and other systemic problems.