Black Lives Matter Friday Forum: Power to the Youth

Following over a week of worldwide protests for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in response to George Floyd’s murder, more than 4,500 people gathered in front of Jersey City’s City Hall on Saturday, June 6th for the Rally to End Police Brutality demonstration organized by the Black Diaspora Club. It was the largest peaceful protest in Jersey City for BLM, and the journey to how it came together is just as important of a story to share as the protest itself. We invited the amazing, young members, all seniors of the class of 2020 at McNair Academic High School, of the Black Diaspora Club to be part of our weekly Black Lives Matter Friday Forum Facebook livestream, hosted by Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight with guest Everything Jersey City co-founder Francine Mikhail, to have an open discussion on systemic racism and tell the story of how the powerful protest came to be.

If you missed it live, we encourage you to watch, listen, and allow the words of this inspiring group of students to be heard in their own voices during the stream here.


The Black Diaspora Club

In 2016, what was formally known as the African American Culture Club was founded by a small group of seniors at McNair Academic High School in response to worsening racial abuse and discrimination in the school. They needed a safe place in the school to talk about experiences and feel heard in a place where they were being silenced. The students talked to the only Black teacher at the school at the time, who encouraged them to start the club, which was eventually renamed the Black Diaspora Club to be more inclusive of all Black students and allies who wanted to show support, listen, and celebrate the Black experience at the school together.


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What started out as a school club that needed to be fit into schedules between after school sports, activities, and jobs, became much more to the students. Club Vice President Chance Chandler, admittedly, as a performer at heart, just attended the events and fun, celebratory assemblies in the beginning. “I started to realize what the club was actually about and was for, and I started putting in my time and my effort towards all the things that the club did,” said Chandler, who is attending Howard University in the fall.

Club President, A’dreana Williams became president her senior year – a perfect fit for this passionate natural leader, who will be attending Howard University in the fall. During her tenure, Williams, Chandler, and the officers of the club took it in a new direction, steering away from being associated with the school and more so a city organization with their activism work because there was more work to be done than just inside the school’s walls.

Black Diaspora Club
Black Diaspora Club McNair Academic High School 2020 graduates. Photo by Janine Ngai.


Growing Up Under Systemic Racism

Today’s youth, like those in the Black Diaspora Club, have been bombarded with the news of senseless, racially driven Black murders, from high-profile cases like Sandra Bland, Eric Gardner, and Trayvon Martin, to those in our community that don’t reach the national or even local news. This constant reminder of violent social and racial inequality, especially with attacks being caught on video now more than ever and shared to millions on social media, takes a toll on Black, POC youth.

“That probably wasn’t the only time that happened that day, that week, that month, that year. Not everything is recorded and put on the internet for everyone to see,” said Chandler, in response to seeing the video of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer. “I don’t know if anything I do can prevent me from ending up in a situation like that. A lot of innocent men are slaughtered by the police and as much as you can say it doesn’t happen often, it really does and everyone needs to open their eyes to that.”

June 6th Rally to End Police Brutality. Photo by Janine Ngai

“As an African American male, this could be me, this could happen to me, and that was the biggest thing. It was an awakening,” said Semaj Mcleod, who is headed to NJCU in the fall. “It not only woke me up but it woke a lot of the world up to see what’s actually going on, what’s being allowed, and what’s been transpiring.”

For Aileen Sanchez, who will be attending Rutgers in the fall, growing up as a non-black POC still did not prepare her for the pain she would see her Black friends go through and the challenges they faced in a deeply racist society. “I don’t know what it feels like to be in that position, but I’m scared for my friends,” said Sanchez. “It angers me because it makes you wonder how many more people have to die in order for there to be actual change in this country… At the same time, I feel like it inspires you to keep being there for your friends, keep doing what you can, as a non-black person of color doing what I can to help.”

Black Diaspora Club
Aileen Sanchez speaking at The Rally to End Police Brutality on June 6th. Photo by Janine Ngai.

The murder of Breonna Taylor hit Williams especially hard. Her murder brought further to light that even a Black woman, a medic working during COVID and a member of a selfless group of essential workers that the country has been celebrating as heroes, could be unjustly murdered in her sleep. “Her death in particular really let me know that we really don’t have to do anything,” said Williams. “Even in a global pandemic, we are not safe, even in our own homes.”


Rally to End Police Brutality

The emotions began to build inside Williams as she attended protests hosted by the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement and Black Men United. After seeing the turn out and feeling the energy of the crowds, she knew it was possible for her to make some big waves.

“I’ve always been a leader, always, my whole life,” said Williams. “Participating in the protests made me sit down and think, ‘I can do it,’ and I don’t need a lot of people to come out. I just need to do it because I have something I need to say and I have something I need to prove. We live in Jersey City, the most diverse city in America, so why is Jersey City so quiet?”

Protestors gathered outside Jersey City City Hall for the June 6th Rally to End Police Brutality. Photo by Janine Ngai.

With no money, no resources, no previous protest organizing experience, just an idea and a voice, Williams sent a late-night text to Chandler, saying “I would like to put together a protest in Jersey City,” and Chandler, without hesitation, sent back, “What do we need to do to set it up?” They made and posted a simple flier on social media with a place, date, and time, hoping to get a couple hundred people to attend. Within hours, the flier was shared over a thousand times, and their inbox was flooded with people reaching out asking, “how can I help?” Williams says she is not an emotional person, but the people of Jersey City were coming together to help her, and that was enough to let the feelings flow.

When it was time to take the stage on Saturday, the streets around City Hall were overflowing with more than 4,500 people there to support Williams and her cause.

To hear how the group felt while staring down from the City Hall stairs, click to watch the recording of the livestream now!


To support The Black Diaspora Club, please send donations to:

Venmo: @BlackDiasporaClub-MAHS

CashApp: $BlackDiasporaClub

To get involved, please reach out to them on Instagram @black.diaspora.

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