My Journey to Freedom: How Community Organizing Changed My Life
MacKenzie is a BPNC youth leader. Learn more about MacKenzie and youth organizing! Watch our youth organizing CAN-TV episode!
How could I sit back and watch this happen? I live in a world with police brutalities, a lack of sanctuary for all, an incompetent President, lack of state funding for the right things, and a place where government prioritizes criminalization over education. The revolution did not feel like it was progressing until I became a part of it. After all, things seem to always turn out better when we handle them ourselves. I want to see change. I am going to be the reason change happened. I consider myself a human rights activist, but things were not always this way.
Around October of my sophomore year of high school, I remembered the opportunity arose to take a trip to Springfield, Illinois for an event called Advocacy Day. Immediately, I made the efforts to go on this trip. I signed up to go not knowing what exactly Advocacy Day meant. I had no idea what the field trip was for or why we were doing what we were doing. I wanted to go because we were going receive a free lunch, t-shirt, and all my friends were going.
When Advocacy Day came around, my peers and I boarded the fancy coach bus and I placed in our earbuds, uninterested in what we were going on the trip for. It turned out that the reason we were traveling to Springfield was to advocate for an elected representative school board for Chicago Public School. When we arrived in Springfield, we walked over to the Capitol building where there was a lot of other youth who were also there for a school trip. We went inside the building and waited for the Senate committee to begin. When the state representatives finally began the session, they were only in the room for about 20 minutes. I believe voters should have elected school board instead of Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointing them. This holds people accountable. An elected school board may spark a domino-effect within other education issues. Although I believed in an elected school board, I still did not feel that it was important for me to be a part of the movement.
In November of 2016, I remember the outcry of fear that came after Trump’s election. Across the nation, many rallies and protests occurred in response to his victory. My beliefs collide with a lot of the policies he advertised throughout his campaign. When Trump became president, I felt an array of mixed emotions. I felt so disgusted that this country could elect such a incompetent person to run it. I wanted to do anything I could to help anyone who needed it, or anyone who would fall victim to his policies.
When summer came around I scrambled to search for a summer job that would keep me occupied while still making money. I remember walking outside after school one day and I saw Olivia. Olivia is the woman who organized the Springfield Advocacy Day. As I passed her on the sidewalk she turned to me and asked for a few moments of my time to tell me about a summer jobs program in her organization. I was so excited that I finally found an opportunity, but was I ready to become the type of person who is vocal about social issues?
On July 5th, I received a call from Olivia telling me that I was hired to work at Brighton Park Neighborhood Council this summer. At this point if I did not become vocal about social issues, how would I do my job? My identity at this point had to shift, no more sitting around waiting for the revolution to come to me, I had to go to it. At first I was hesitant to accept the job offer because of how much responsibility. After the first day, Olivia and Andrea discussed all the tasks we must complete over the course of six weeks. The first day felt like we were working forever, I wanted to stop coming because the first week was full of training; it felt like school.
Two weeks later our work started to pick up, and we began door knocking in the Brighton Park neighborhood. As a group, we created surveys that we would conduct while door knocking. We also advertised a community meeting so that community members would be able to come out, address issues, and ask questions to local aldermen and state representatives. The questions we asked related to violence prevention, immigration, and taxes. We talked to many people, with many different opinions--some stronger than others. Door knocking was insightful for me. I could get a feel of people’s needs and concerns for their community.
A final turning point for me was when we had an action at City Hall. My group interrupted city council with powerful chants. We planned this action decisively and executed it skillfully. I know we were effective when I looked at people’s faces while security was escorting us out. We sparked attention on social media and gained respect from a few people. Personally, this day was memorable for me. I loudly yelled “fund our schools” directly to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He looked directly into my eyes; this moment made me remember why I fight.
Ultimately, this summer was major for me. I grew as an individual. Being a bystander held me back from doing so many cool things. If you ever feel like you are selling yourself short, make the adjustments. Some values that this experience instilled into me was to believe that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. I also learned that if you really want something done, you must be the one to do it. Always do what you think is right. Never let anything hold you back. Do not be a bystander.