Jelani Brown, Youth Organizer at American Friends Service Committee St. Louis

On black identity:

A white person will never know what it means to be a black person. I don’t want to say stigma, or that I feel disgraced to be black. But people look down on you and question you as a person and are suspicious of you from the time you are young to the time you are coming up. And it’s not overt like “oh you nigger,” like I said there is internalized oppressions people got and their actions may speak a lot louder than words. It’s like eyes on you all the time. At our Freedom School, we say that all Black folks have a feeling of inferiority. And it’s true you got these commercials saying your shoes ain’t fly enough your hair don’t look white but that’s like times ten for black people because the standard is white skin, blond hair, blue eyes. Growing up people see that and feel that “oh I am not up to par or standard.” So you go through life and don’t realize that you got these feelings deep down so you have to seek them and really dig them out. But yea it’s a subtle feeling and internal feeling of less than. It’s something that you fight and deal with because you don’t want to recognize that you even have those feelings. And I mean white folks will never know. Because that’s the standard. They don’t know how it feels to be questioned to be looked at with suspicion all the time. It may sound like small stuff but when you add it up over your life, it’s a lot.

On police militarization:

That teargas was real. Absolutely 100 percent real.  We were in the back of one of the safe houses, Mokabes, trying to get our next steps together. At the end of the alley, this white van pulls up. The door swings open and you have four or five police there already got their guns drawn. We looking at them, they looking at us for ten seconds. They open fire on us. Rubber bullets. They pulled a drive by right on us. Just because we were standing there. They pulled up open the door, shot some bullets and we ran. That was real. In their mind and in a lot of the protesters’ mind was that it’s us against them. They were preparing for war and their objective was to squash us by any means necessary. I hope to believe that it’s not us against them because we are all in the same boat together whether it’s black against white. So yea it’s totally true.

On protesting as a solution:

I appreciate [protesting] as a tool to rally folks into a cause. But I also think it’s not enough. It’s cool to protest, scream, and ask for changes. I think when you’re protesting you’re asking for these oppressors to stop oppressing you. Right. That’s not going to happen. As far as real changes, we need to learn to build up our own alternative systems. Protesting is not the solution. The only reason I am a proponent of protesting is it lets the world know, why you’re fighting, what’s your cause, what’s your plight, what’s your struggle. It gives people an opportunity to plug into what you’re doing. It’s a tool to get people riled up to join a cause and look at their own circumstances. I think the solution is investing in alternative systems.

Ferguson is…The spark. A spark for the new youth movement. You know civil rights leaders back in the day when they started off they were mostly young college students wanting to teach themselves about their conditions. So I want to say with Mike Brown and the events that took place in Ferguson it takes this new generation of youth to follow in their footsteps and take the lead. That’s what I’d call it. A spark.

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