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Gen Z and Millennials Debate Social Justice Issues

Family, friends and community members recently said their final goodbyes to Deon Kay during a funeral at the Temple of Praise on Southern Avenue during which mourners reflected on what could’ve been a bright future for the teen shot and killed by a D.C. police officer just days after turning 18.

In the weeks since his Sept. 2 death, supporters have not only had to find solace in the memories of their fallen son and friend, but combat residents and public figures who’ve lambasted those lionizing Kay as a victim of police brutality.

Anti-violence advocate Miss Hardy DC, one of several who converged on the 200 block of Orange Street after MPD Officer Alexander Alvarez shot and killed Kay, recalled receiving phone calls from local leaders who called Kay a menace and questioned her perspective.

“I got so much hate for supporting Deon Kay,” Hardy told an audience at Eaton DC in Northwest during a Friday evening event that commemorated the two-year anniversary of Speakezie..Go Hard, a collective of artists, poets and musicians dedicated to tackling racial injustice and trauma in communities of color.

Miss Hardy DC, known for Guns Down Fridays, told Speakezie..Go Hard founder ElJay’Em that people need to affirm the humanity of Kay and other people living in portions of Southeast and a racist society at large without the tools needed to thrive.  

“The issue is that nothing is being done,” Miss Hardy DC said. “That specific neighborhood doesn’t have violence interrupters. They don’t have resources in that neighborhood. Everyone’s not on accord for fighting injustice. That’s the most heartbreaking part.”

Young People Speak Up

Throughout much of the year, as District residents young and old have combated COVID-19 and racial injustice, year-to-date figures have shown an increase in violent crime, much to the chagrin of D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and others who’ve called for an increase of funding for violence interrupters charged with quelling neighborhood disputes.

During the earlier part of September, some students started virtual learning still reeling from the deaths of 11-year-old Davon McNeal, 17-year-old Christopher Brown and several other young people who lost their lives over the summer.  

As their peers continue to fall victim to gun violence, students have brought to the virtual classroom questions about the conditions of their community and the pandemonium unfolding across the country during a tenuous election year.

To channel that enthusiasm for change, DC Public Schools [DCPS] hosted the Empowering Males of Color/Reign virtual conference last Saturday. The five-hour event, themed “Virtual Vibes: Surviving to Thriving,” included keynotes and panel discussions led by author Jason Reynolds and activist Brittany Packnett Cunningham.

Workshops about various aspects of the Gen-Z experience attracted youth from grades six through 12.

The conference, which also included an appearance by 93.9WKYS’ own Little Bacon Bear, also provided a platform for young people, like Khalil Sommerville, to take their peers to task for not embracing causes that make society better for people from all walks of life.

“In the Black community, we care about issues facing us but we don’t care about issues facing other groups even if other groups are intermingled with us,” said Khalil, a McKinley Technology High School student and participant in the Reynolds panel.

“They are at odds. In the end that’s going to bring us down,” he continued. “I hope to help people realize that we face a common struggle with the authority above us. It’s all really connected in the end with the struggle that we can’t defeat by ourselves.”

While speaking with Cunningham and her younger peers, DCPS alumnae Madison Bryan-Barnes noted that young people experiencing virtual learning at the K-12 and collegiate levels will determine the future trajectory of public policy.  She told The Informer that she not only relished the opportunity to weigh in on contemporary issues as a DCPS graduate, but as an on-campus freshman at George Mason University.

“D.C. has allowed me to understand how diverse we actually are. In Georgetown, you have people who might not know how to interact with people who don’t look like them or in a position of power where they can do what they want,” said Bryan-Barnes, a 2020 graduate of The Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

“Even though I went to school in an area that wasn’t designed for me, it was a very humbling experience to say that this is D.C., what people would call Chocolate City,” Bryan-Barnes added. “I wish I would’ve known then that people want to listen to what young people have to say because we are the future.”

Looking to the Future

In August, the Bowser administration announced the rollout of mental health services for students and parents that can be accessed through a 24-hour hotline. People who take advantage of that offering would have licensed social workers, psychologists and school-based counselors at their disposal.

Over the last two years, Speakezie..Go Hard has doled out conflict resolution resources to more than 10,000 victims of violence in the District and provided a platform for more than 100 artists of various mediums. Hosts of the September 25 event touted that milestone but not without stressing that more work has to be done in combating enemies within and outside the community.

On Friday, Ari Theresa of Stoop Law, a Southeast-based law practice that tackles urban policy harmful to low-income communities, derided qualified immunity as a legal principle that emboldens police officers to kill people in the communities of color they patrol. While he didn’t articulate an all-encompassing solution for police brutality, Theresa noted that police departments should, at the very least, implement some form of cultural sensitivity training.

Ty Hobson-Powell later conveyed a message of unity he said benefitted District organizers needs. Through a newlyformed organization, Concerned Citizens D.C., Hobson-Powell and other young activists, including a Parkland shooting survivor, have led rallies in support of police reform, defunding the Metropolitan Police Department and D.C. statehood.

“We have to step into the spirit of comradery to find a higher ground and something better than what has been,” Hobson-Powell said. “A lot of people don’t have the privilege to protest amid a pandemic and mass joblessness.”

“It’s about being a human and meeting people where they’re at, not taking the high ground and thinking your activism is better than someone else’s. These are the pieces we will put together to make this revolution happen,” he said.

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