As Australyah Coleman, president of the Central Michigan University chapter of the NAACP and vice president of the Michigan State Conference Youth and College Division of the NAACP, made her way up to the Capitol steps and prepared to deliver a speech, she looked out at the 1,000 people in attendance for the NAACP “We Are Done Dying” protest for reform, justice and equality. She paused.
“I swear to God, I am not a crier,” Coleman said, as tears began to make their way onto her cheeks.
“But if you guys could see what this looks like — Never ever, ever would I have thought that I would be standing at the State Capitol, giving a speech to defend our people in 2020," she said. "Never would I have thought this was happening.”
Coleman was one of many to deliver a message from the Capitol steps to over 1,000 people that filled the lawn.
The speakers advocated for change, determined that this will be the generation that evokes it for good and emphasized voting and policy action on all levels of government.
The generation of change
This protest was organized and attended by many from the young generation. Organized by the Michigan State Youth and College Division of the NAACP, those on the edge of adulthood were the ones who gave speeches and advocated for change to the entire crowd.
This young group — the future voters, office holders and activists — want to be the generation for change.
“The suppression — It ends with us,” Kyra Mitchell, president of the Michigan State Conference Youth and College Division of the NAACP, said in her speech. “The systemic racism — It ends with us.”
Those who spoke acknowledged that the battles against racism they are fighting against now, were the same ones that their parents had to fight. This generation wants to rewrite history. They are tired of injustice and are teaching and pushing for change.
“People in the crowd that have probably protested the same incidents and the same problems that we’re having now when they were our age,” Coleman said in her speech. “Oftentimes we say history repeats itself, but we’re forgetting a lot of history because we weren’t taught the history. Something that I know our generation is doing is rewriting history. We’re teaching the things we were not taught. We’re pushing the issues we need to push because we are tired of being sick and tired of fighting for our lives.”
When David Wiggins, the state youth advisor for this division of the NAACP, looks at his group, he said he sees the leaders of today who will not turn a blind eye to the injustices of America.
“The youth are the leaders of today,” Wiggins said. “There’s a consciousness among these young people who do not and will not lay down for systemic injustices and police brutality.”
In the ongoing battle with racism, the youth are fighting for their right to live.
"While some people were busy storming our Capitol demanding for their right to cut their hair, here we are today — in this weather — peacefully demanding for our right to live," Allanah Serenity Morales, a member of the Black-Latinx community, said. "As we all fight for our lives against the virus know as (COVID-19), we are faced with the ongoing battle of racism. Racism doesn't just stop at police brutality and the criminal justice system either — hundreds of years of oppression and hatred has allowed for racism to deeply root itself in structural violence against. Not only is being black in America criminalized, it is considerably a death wish."
"Take your souls to the polls"
"Take your souls to the polls" was a chant Wiggins made echo throughout the Capitol. To Wiggins, activism has to have engagement. This group's goal was to engage voters and get them to the polls.
They offered drinks, food, voter registration and COVID-19 testing.
“We’re offering refreshments, voter registration — people have moved and they need to update their voter registration address,” Wiggins said. “In order to advocate properly, there has to be that engagement piece.”
Throughout the speeches given and chants made, the leaders of the protest emphasized that they were there to push policy and make changes in the system.
“We are here today to push policy," Coleman said in her speech. "We’re here today to make sure that everybody knows, that our government officials know we’re done. The only way we are able to make this change is if we enforce this policy, is if we get out to vote. … If this movement doesn’t show you that your voice isn’t being heard, we’re still doing something wrong.”
Mitchell knows that the polls are their way of change and that this generation will be the ones to get more politically involved.
“I think that this generation is a lot more politically involved as well,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to be the generation to take over the Capitol, take over the Senate, take over the House because if they’re not going to push those legislative changes for us, we’re going to push them ourselves.”
After Mitchell delivered a very powerful and personal speech, she read off the demands from the NAACP to the government.
The first was to pass Senate Bill 945.
This bill would require all police officers in Michigan to undergo more implicit bias training, de-escalation techniques and more mental health techniques.
Their next demand was to ban the use of knee holds, choke holds and use of chemical weapons in police departments.
Mitchell and the NAACP also called on there to be statewide and local citizen review boards elected by the citizens.
Going hand-in-hand with more police training, the demands said were that they would be able to check and hold accountable those in power. They demanded disciplinary and misconduct information available by the Freedom of Information Act and a nationwide system that tracks all policing misconduct information.
They demanded all police officers have active front facing cameras at all times and for the officers to respond to mental health issues with healthcare, not policing.
The goal was “for police departments to reflect the communities that they serve.”
Mitchell urged those present and watching to take action after the protest ended and to not let the momentum die.
“Do not let these demands and this power stay here,” Mitchell said. “Take it back home. Share it with everybody that you know to continue this fight. Because if we let this momentum die here, die out now, then our fight will be for nothing. We will just be waiting for another innocent black life to be taken, and I know I am tired of black people being lynched in America.”
"We are at a fork in the road"
As Wiggins thought about the change this group was trying to bring, he remembered a poem.
“We are at a crossroad. We are at a fork in the road,” Wiggins said, “We got to take the road less traveled. We’ve seen racism. We’ve seen systemic oppression. Let’s try another route that does not involve those things. It’s not going to be easy. … We see the detriments. We see the effects. We are living it. We are living, watching the trauma unfold before our eyes and we have to do something to say, no, that’s not right.”
When Wiggins says "we," he means everybody. Right now, the entire world has their eyes fixed on the racism, injustice and police brutality going on and have to make the choice of which road they will follow — the path that will filter them into the same cycles of oppression or the road less traveled.
“In this moment, it’s a realization of what we have the potential to do when we come together,” Wiggins said. “We saw people from every race, every denomination, every background, who came together to lift up voices to collectively say ‘enough is enough,' we want justice.”
Those saying enough are tired. They are tired of fighting battles they shouldn’t even have to be fighting, especially when it hits so close to home.
“I have friends and family members who have had to go off to the street because their loved ones have been lost to police brutality and weaponized racism,” Mitchell said. “To think about me losing some people that I care about that I know personally, that I’ve raised almost, it definitely brings tears to my eyes because we shouldn't have to fight this fight. I shouldn’t have to remind my little brother, my little cousin to think about the sadder parts of racism that we have to teach and keep teaching.”
To fight for their lives to matter isn’t a fight they should have but to them, establishing that their lives matter is the minimum.
“Your activism must be inclusive and intersectional,” Andre Wilkes, an 18-year-old college student and member of the NAACP, said. “To establish that black lives matter is the minimum. Black lives are needed. Matter is the minimum.”