Over the last several months, Black Lives Matter protestors and activists have led the nation in an overdue reckoning, an excavation of how racism has permeated every aspect of American life: our schools, our policing, our workplaces, our justice system, our housing market, and more. For the young people in this movement, it’s a new chapter in a lifelong fight, one that will shape the very world they’ll grow up in. But what does the country these teens envision look like? What would they say to themselves, 10 years from now, about this moment? Here, ELLE.com speaks to three Black Lives Matter activists across the country to ask just that: What would you say in a letter to your future self? What do you want to remember, and what changes do you hope to see? Below, what Thandiwe Abdullah, Anya Dillard, and Sophie Ming had to say.
Thandiwe Abdullah, 16Los Angeles, California Thandiwe Abdullah is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard and helped create the Black Lives Matter in Schools program, which was then adopted by the National Education Association. She says her biggest victory was helping to end random searches in the Los Angeles Unified School District.When Black Lives Matter was founded, I think I was 10 years old. Being in those spaces and having access to all these amazing organizers kickstarted me in this work. It made me want to take it on for myself.When I think about my future self, I hope that I’m staying in the community. I’m from the Crenshaw District, and we have a community that has been told that in order to be successful, you have to leave. That in order to be successful, you have to distance yourself from the hood, distance yourself from your people. That you have to be a capitalist. You have to be rich. You have to assimilate as much as you can into white supremacy and this white picket fence ideal. But personally, I don’t agree with that. For me, success and my work should always be connected to the community. Making sure that I’m continuing to support and uplift—even if it’s not my own people—anyone who is oppressed, anyone who is in need or being subjugated. That’s my job. I want to remember that none of our wins came easy. Showing up at the mayor’s office, at the DA’s office, pressuring them, writing letters, going to the capitol—all of this exhausting work just to get an inch of justice. It sounds corny, but don’t give up.
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Don’t let activist work become something that’s about fame, that’s about money, that’s about clout, that’s about recognition. There’s a difference between doing the work and subsequently receiving those things, but the way we’re moving right now, we’re in a dangerous place where people want to turn organizing and activist work into something that’s profitable. It’s easy to get lost in that, but you might end up forgetting the purpose of why you’re doing this work in the first place. I would tell myself: Surround yourself with people who remind you of your duty and remind you why you’re doing this work.When it comes to the future of our country, I want to start from scratch. I want to see a world where folks don’t have to worry about not affording basic human needs like food, shelter, education, medical care. I want a world where police aren’t militarized, where prisons don’t essentially look like slavery, where we don’t put profits over people. I want to see a redistribution of wealth. I want to see reparations. I want to see the abolition of I.C.E.I’d want to see a culture shift, getting rid of the idea that in order to make it anywhere and be successful, you’re on your own. I want everyone to care about other people. I want people to think that their own success and justice is tied to everyone around them. That’s my world.
Jean Pierre Dillard
Anya Dillard, 17West Orange, New JerseyThis June, Anya Dillard was part of a group of West Orange students who organized a Black Lives Matter protest for their community, drawing thousands of people and garnering the attention of their mayor and local officials. She’s also the creator of The Next Gen Come Up, a non-profit organization encouraging community service and activism among teens.George Floyd’s death emotionally jarred me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a generation that saw the first Black president, but I also live in a time where we constantly see people who look like our best friends, our brothers, our parents being killed every day. You get to a point where it becomes a harsh reality as a person of color. When I saw the video of George Floyd, I didn’t feel the way I should’ve felt. It felt more like, “Oh my gosh, again?” The shock of it becoming so normal in my mind threw me into an emotional whirlwind. I had to shut everything off and reevaluate my purpose.A lot of the time, people who are faced with the struggle move forward only seeing the struggle. That is the entire mechanism that keeps the system of racism going and keeps it alive—that people who are constantly beaten down are trained to believe that they can’t move forward because of every obstacle the oppression builds in our path.When I think about my future self, I hope I haven’t gone through anything that has encouraged me to stop doing what I’m doing or to stop being resilient and unapologetic about starting uncomfortable dialogue. I hope that no matter how progressive the world becomes, I will always make sure that marginalized groups of people and their perspectives are brought to the forefront.
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I want to always be a “soldier of the people,” to make a substantial difference in the width of the door of opportunity for people of color. I’ve always hoped that I grow up to be someone who builds a door where there is no door and advocates for people to accomplish the goals society tells them are impossible.As for the future of our country, I sincerely hope that people start seeing others as human beings regardless of class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation. People have mastered the art of dehumanizing those who are different than them. Everybody deserves respect, everybody deserves freedom, everybody deserves to be happy, to be successful, to obtain an education, to feel love.I hope I remember what I’ve realized about my community. I’ve always grown up around people of every race, but I’ve never seen so many young, Black kids come together to fight for something so important. It wasn’t until the protests that I really felt connected to each and every Black kid in my school. That’s changed how I, as a person of color, move through my own community. It helped me realize I am so much more connected to all of these people now because I recognize that we can all fall victim to the same system.To my future self: Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’ve always been a radical personality and passionate about the things that I believe. I often look back and think, “Should I have been so serious? Should I have been so passionate about that?”Don’t question yourself. Feel free in being forward. Feel free in your creativity, your ambition. Don’t dull yourself down for anybody. Move in your truth.
Courtesy of Sophie Ming
Sophie Ming, 18New York, New YorkMost recently, Sophie Ming has organized both large protests in Manhattan as well as smaller gatherings to discuss topics directly affecting Black people. She is the founder of the New York City Youth Collective, which focuses on educating youth on issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement. I hope my future self knows that everything I’m doing is much bigger than me. I do it now because I’m passionate about it, but it’s for my children and their future children and their future children. It’s about the Black friends and family that I have. And I hope that, in 10 years, I can look back at the work I’m doing now and appreciate that and understand that. I’m doing this because I love it, but it’s also going to help so many more people that aren’t me.
Ming at a New York City protest on June 19, 2020.
I want to become a doctor. I want to become a physician working with kids and incorporate social justice into medicine. Racial segregation and racial disparities show up in every single field in this country, especially the medical field. One day, ideally, I’d run my own hospital as a Black woman and hire more Black physicians and Black nurses and Black healthcare workers. We need more of them. We need people that understand Black health. A hundred years ago, I couldn’t have become a Black doctor, and now I can. I want to bring my passion for social justice reform and racial justice reform into that field.In the future, I hope the NYPD is defunded. I hope that I’m living in a world where I feel safer as a Black woman and my kids feel safer being Black and walking around Black. I hope I’m someone who’s still confident, who’s curious, and always ready to learn new things.I hope I remember to take breaks, especially when there’s a lot of momentum in the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m fighting a fight that I was never meant to fight in the first place. It’s not my responsibility to dismantle white supremacy. But I still do it because I’m with millions of other Black people across this country. Whether my future self is fighting for political reform or working in a hospital, I hope I remember to be present and allow myself to rest.These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is a staff writer at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture.
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