November 20, 2020
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A lesson in inclusive leadership from a Gen Z activist

Moved by the tragic killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, this D.C. high school senior rallied her fellow Black students and allies to demand action from their school's administration.

Arrieanna Solomon is a high school senior and youth activist in the Washington, D.C., area. As a LearnServe fellow, she developed a training program to teach police how to realize the impact of their implicit bias. Photo courtesy of LearnServe International

EDITOR'S NOTE

America is at an inflection point and the emerging leaders of Gen Z will be a force to help move the country forward. In this critical moment, we want to hear directly from them on how they’re working to create stronger, more inclusive communities—in their hometowns, on their college campuses, and in their professional circles. If you’re an emerging leader in high school or college and would like to be a part of this series, email the editor, Margaret Myers at: Margaret@TheRenewalProject.com.

I could write about how George Floyd’s death made me feel. I could talk about how anxious I became watching the video on Instagram. I could also tell you how my friends and family felt. However, I can also tell you how it impacted my perception of America. I don’t know why George Floyd was the martyr of Black Death that made me wake up, but his death forced me to confront the problems in America I had spent so much of my life not knowing or trying to ignore.

After my long period of grief, I started posting resources to my Instagram story. For most of the summer, I was donating to different organizations, signal boosting important Tik Toks, buying from Black-owned businesses, all of that. Then one day, I ran out of steam. I ran out of energy to keep screaming into the void. I felt like every time I posted about Breonna Taylor, no one heard me.

It’s hard to continually explain that you care about your own people. It should be intuitive. But alas, I go to a predominantly white institution (PWI) where performative activism is more popular than our school productions and sports games. I didn’t want people to think posting was the only thing I did, because at some point it was. I ran out of disposable income to spend on the culture, and I ran out of emotional endurance to see our world crumble to the ground every time I opened Instagram. I was left wondering what impact can I actually make on this country?

Starting in 2019, I participated in the LearnServe Fellows program, and my first venture was to develop a police training program to teach police how to deescalate situations and to realize the impact of their implicit bias and how to look past it. Doing my research for this venture opened my eyes to the amount of problems in police training.

Working with LearnServe also taught me how to use my voice to advocate for others and find solutions to the complex problems of today’s world. I’m thankful for learning these skills, as I needed to call upon them after Floyd’s death to start enacting change in my community.

In May, right after George Floyd’s death, my school had a cathedral service to celebrate our retiring faculty, and they only mentioned George Floyd once. They did not call attention to the country’s racial injustices, nor did they use any calls to action or words of support or solidarity for their Black students. Before the service was entirely over, our former Black Student Union (BSU) president sent an email voicing our concerns to the administration. That email started a chain of events that I’m so proud to be a part of. Our administration sat down with BSU over the summer to listen to our grievances, to start enacting change in our curriculum, and to discuss what information we share during community events.

The younger we can instill acceptance, allyship, and advocacy in students, the more we can change the mindset of the future.

In order to protect the impact BSU has had on our school, and to build infrastructure that will continue to nurture the bond between the Black students and the administration, we decided to become a member of Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC). BSDC is a national student-led organization whose main goal is to act as a liaison between Black students at PWIs and their administrations in order to facilitate conversations about meaningful and lasting changes within the school that will benefit both the experience of the Black students and allow for more inclusion within the institution.

To all of the Black students who go to PWIs reading this right now: start demanding change from your administration. We sometimes forget that hate and ignorance is learned behavior. The younger we can instill acceptance, allyship, and advocacy in students, the more we can change the mindset of the future. While voting isn’t the only solution to systemic injustices, it would benefit our cause to elect presidents, senators, representatives, and mayors who also believe in America’s ability to change its old habits.

Vote for people who actually want America to succeed. Vote for people who will take your grievances to work with them every day and won’t consider themselves successful until they’ve done everything in their power to give you a fair chance at the “American Dream.”

Voting is how our democracy works, whether you agree with the concept of democracy or not. We have to use the system in our favor. It’s a group effort to eradicate a centuries-old faulty design. We should start by educating our young citizens to not tolerate attacks on anyone’s human rights, and by voting for candidates who will get our country to a better place where our democracy truly benefits everyone.

Arrieanna Solomon

Arrieanna Solomon

Hi, I'm Arrie Solomon, a senior in high school in Washington D.C. I am also a former LearnServe Fellow and the Co-Chair for the DMV chapter of the organization Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC). In my free time, I love to write, cook and bake, garden, and bullet journal.