Refinery29 is partnering with Girls Who Code for the #MarchForSisterhood on International Day of the Girl. This is the first-ever all-digital global march. Come back each day this week to learn about why different young women are participating, and join us as we #MarchForSisterhood on any of your social media channels this Friday, October 11, 2019.
My name is Thandiwe Abdullah. I’m 15 years old and I’m the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard. I grew up in an activist household in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles — where I was taught by example to speak up for issues that matter. My mom says the first time I spoke at a rally, it was for Free the Jena 6. I was only four years old. My neighborhood was full of figures I looked up to like the elder Black Panthers who led the rallies in Leimert Park after every police shooting. My grandfather was an activist in the black athlete movement led by Harry Edwards at Cal Berkeley, and my mom is a cofounder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles chapter and professor of Pan African Studies at CSULA.
I attended the first meetings that resulted in the creation of Black Lives Matter (BLM) when I was 10 years old. After the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of police, we protested. My mom, with no child care available, allowed me and my siblings to sit in on these founding meetings. Black Lives Matter was founded by my spirit auntie, Patrisse Kahn Cullors, Opal Tometti, and Alicia Garza. I began to see what the media hides from me. I realized that those who are supposed to protect and serve don’t always do so, that the system of policing as we know it was inherently anti-black from the start, and that true change happens when the people rise up and demand it.
After a couple attempts to create a solid network of young people demanding change that failed, my sister, a group of other young black girls, finally succeeded after a week long Black Lives Matter youth camp. This group became the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard. After two years, our organizing became more urgent when my school district (LAUSD) implemented a Random Search Policy. I was 12 years old at the time. This policy came as a result of mass shootings across America, and even though our district fortunately didn't fall victim to these horrific shootings, we bore a heavy weight of the aftermath.
Looking back now, I’m realizing how powerful and prominent Black women and girls are in our fights.
LAUSD sent School Police, a faction of LAPD, to “randomly” search students for weapons and drugs. While it seems the intent was to keep schools safe, police officers often targeted and criminalized Black, brown, and Muslim students. The main schools with the heaviest police presence were schools majority made up of those demographics. However, even at my highly privileged school with a prominent white and Asian population, the Black, brown, and Muslim students still faced the heaviest consequences.
We were repeatedly removed from classes “randomly.” Even when there weren’t many people who looked like us, POC and Muslim students were targeted. While allegedly looking for “weapons,” School Officers would confiscate things like pens, highlighters, and perfume. Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard and the larger BLM network joined forces with Students Deserve, a group organized to create anti-racist learning environments in LA schools. We rallied, organized, distributed pins and flyers, and challenged our school board for three years. This past summer, we won.
We helped draft a blueprint of what safe and healthy schools for Black people would look like. That blueprint was adopted by the National Education Association and helped support a new mandatory ethnic studies class for LAUSD.
Looking back now, I’m realizing how powerful and prominent Black women and girls are in our fights. We all want to show the world that our lives matter. And yet today, Black women and girls are still targeted, hyper-sexualized, and criminalized. I march for sisterhood for girls like me and my own sister. To tell to the world: We’re present, we’re loud, and we matter.
Thandiwe Abdullah is a 15 year old organizer with Black Lives Matter and Co-Founder of the Black Lives Matter Youth Vanguard. She helped to conceptualize and launch the Black Lives Matter in Schools campaign, adopted by the National Education Association. Her work is to create safe spaces for black youth to organize around racism and anti blackness particularly in schools. Thandiwe has been active with March for Our Lives, emphasizing what gun control must look like for Black youth and is part of a national coalition of youth organizers of colour, Out of POCket.