This weekend, I attended Art 180, Performing Statistics, and RISE for Youth’s joint event, the Juvenile Justice Parade. It was organized by black and brown youth, all of whom have faced personal discrimination and many of whom have been personally sent through the school-to-prison-pipeline.
Chants spanned from “Fund education, not incarceration, invest in us, invest in us,” to as simple as, “Prisons don’t work!” As we marched, we each were holding at least one piece of artwork from formerly incarcerated youth, organized by Art 180, and we took their art to the streets with a moving march, literally and figuratively.
We started at a community center and ended at a park, marching through backstreets and backstreets only. I felt weird about being guided by the police car and chanting these things in the first person, but I had to set my awkwardness aside to focus on the bigger picture– the mobilization and the movement.
At the beginning and end we heard speeches (one by my friend Stephanie), songs, raps, poetry, and freestyle dances, all of which went to support a bigger cause. In the park there was an open mic after all of the scheduled speakers had gone, and I shared my poem, “Do Nothing,” with a feeling of hope.
It was absolutely essential that people would show up at this event, to participate, to engage, to learn. Despite my obvious suburban-whiteness, I was one of those people, and it mattered. Everyone who came made a difference at the event in one way or another.
Based on the title of this post, you may think my point will be that showing up is all you have to do, or that it is the simplest of actions, but neither are correct. To truly make a difference, you not only have to show up, you have to show up again, and again, and again, for whatever cause matters to you.
This seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. The simplest of actions, I will argue, is even simpler than attending an event. What can you do that will help you show up, get involved, and most importantly, spread your voice? Talking, listening, discussing. Its as simple as that. No matter who you are or what you do, you cannot change the world alone. But with a group, you can.
It recently came to my attention that we all, introverts and extroverts alike, need groups to thrive in activism, even if they’re just three other people. So, a whole year ago, I made an after-school club called TCLU (or the ACLU of Tuckahoe Middle School) and went through the bi-weekly craziness for a year (kudos to Ms McNew and Hayes). In the summer, it continued as the Teen Advocacy Group of Richmond, TAGRVA. It was a rocky rollercoaster, and not much of one at that, but eventually, through simply showing up again and again, it stabilized.
We have five people in total, and it doesn’t seem like much, but it is. My point is anyone can go anywhere if they continue to show up for and with other people. “Anyone” in that sentence is the word I had forgotten about for so long, but then we had an idea.
We decided we could expand TAG, so anyone could make their own. All they’d need is people, a time-frame, and a venue. Ours are: friends who live nearby, Wednesday evenings, and my house. It’s that simple, yet that important, to talk to other people with other backgrounds and ideas. If you are a teenager or know one who may be interested in forming a group, you can learn more at www.tagrva.com.
My point here is that even something as simple as frequently brainstorming actions with friends, or attending an event, really matters — your first step is to show up.