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Leaders of the new school


The stereotype about young people is that they’re glued to their cell phones, obsessed with social media and generally clueless about politics and social activism. But that’s not always true. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, in response to frequent acts of police violence, has shown that young people can be passionate about social causes.

Los Angeles is developing a new generation of young Black leaders, who are tech savvy, grew up with a Black president and have different political views from their parents. Los Angeles-based political activist and author Earl Ofari Hutchinson cited Danielle J. Lafayette, president/CEO of Unite a Nation, Inc. and Clay Wesley, Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Development Council chair as future leaders.

He said being a leader is not always an easy task. “The mark of a true young leaders is their willingness to do the hard, laborious, and often thankless job of engaging with and educating community residents on the crucial issues of lack of adequate jobs, housing, social services, and healthcare, police abuse, and crime and violence that impact their neighborhoods,” said Hutchinson.

According to Hutchinson, many young leaders grew up in very different world from their parents. “The leaders today do not have a history of confronting Jim Crow segregation, naked racial exclusion, and overt bigotry of earlier generations of Blacks,” Hutchinson said. “Discrimination and exploitation is more subtle and more opaque. The young leaders have the ability to see through the haze of racial denial and exclusion and devise strategies to confront it.”

Like many young people, future leaders are very comfortable with using technology such as social media.

“Young leaders today are more tech savvy,” Hutchinson said. “They use all the social media platforms to organize, mobilize and educate their peers on the issues and engage them on the issues, meaning to take action.”

John Wood Jr., a Republican who challenged Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43) for her congressional seat in 2014, came to understand the power of YouTube during his race.

“YouTube was a big thing for me,” Wood said. “To this day, people message me or follow me on different mediums based on something I said online.”

A frequent commentator on political issues, Wood’s interviews were often posted on YouTube and this turned out to be a great way for him to reach out to supporters. He ended up getting small donations from people who didn’t even live in California.

“That’s the direction in which politics is going,” Wood said.

Now, all political candidates have to be tech savvy, have an active social media presence and realize that they can raise money from the entire nation.

Although Wood is currently a Republican, he started off as a Democrat. He comes from a long line of Democrats and said his grandparents were delegates to the 1960 Democratic convention where John. F. Kennedy was nominated as the presidential candidate.

Wood, 29, has been interested in politics since he was in high school, when he campaigned for Al Gore. He also protested against the Iraq war and campaigned for Barack Obama. Wood started to change his political views after studying economics in depth. He also believes that the Black community is better off when it doesn’t put all of its votes with one party.

Although it was his first political race, Wood was able to get about 30 percent of the vote during his race against Waters. “Which is better than anyone else has been able to do,” he said.

He may have lost the race but it taught him some important lessons. Wood said he managed to win people over by encouraging them to focus on issues and not partisanship.

Woods said a lot of young political leaders tend to look at politics on the issues level and not concentrate on party loyalty. Although he is a Republican, he finds common ground with Sen. Bernie Sanders, an Independent who contested for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his criticism of the power of special interests groups such as the pharmaceutical companies, the oil companies and unions. Special interests are so powerful they set the agenda, not political parties, he said.

“When you get to a certain point, there is no such thing as Democrat or Republican,” Wood said. Wood said another issue that concerns many young Republicans is the power of the Surveillance State, which was revealed by Edward Snowden. Wood said he is concerned the War on Terror gave the government massive powers to monitor the American people, and much of it was never debated in Congress.

“It was never voted on in the court of public opinion,” Wood said. Like a lot of young Republicans, Wood believes in the limited government principles advocated by former Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. He said these views have made many young Republicans advocates of criminal justice reform. Wood said many Republicans of his age share the same views with Democrats on the criminal justice system and believe it needs to be reformed.

“There is no way you can call yourself a conservative and support the War on Drugs,” said Wood. Wood feels the War on Drugs expands the government’s powers. It has also lead to a hugely expensive criminal justice system.

Rand Paul has been a critic of the War on Drugs and the militarization of the police. According to Wood, Paul was one of few Republicans who was one the ground when residents of Ferguson, Mo. Protested against police violence in 2014 and were met with tanks and heavily-armed law enforcement officers.

Sikivu Hutchinson, daughter of Earl Ofari Hutchinson, is part also part of the next generation of leaders. Hutchinson is an author, educator and speaker. She has written books such as “Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels,” “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars,” and “Imagining Transit: Race, Gender, and Transportation Politics in Los Angeles (Travel Writing Across the Disciplines.)” “Moral Combat,” was the first book on atheism written by a Black woman, according to her website. Her most recent book in a novel about the Jonestown massacre titled “White Nights, Black Paradise, on Peoples Temple.”

Some of the issues Sikivu Hutchinson is concerned with are somewhat different from other young leaders. According to Hutchinson, who is also founder of Black Skeptics Los Angeles and Women’s Leadership Project, a gender justice program for high school girls of color, she “advocates for gender equity and economic justice, redressing the criminalization of Black women and girls, sexual violence and intimate partner violence, culturally responsive social justice education and STEM education.”

Unlike many Black leaders, Hutchinson does not come from the church.

“Being a freethinker, atheist and humanist sets me and this generation apart from prior generations,” she said. “It’s always been taboo for Black women to question, much less reject, organized religion vis-a-vis the way it traditionally limits the life choices of women of color, stigmatizes women’s sexuality and polices women’s reproductive right to self-determination. Newer generations of activist leaders also have a more intersectional approach to organizing and education that takes into consideration multiple identities, life experiences and positions of privilege.”

Hutchinson has been critical of the roles given to Black women by the church.

“Being tacitly religious is almost a litmus test for being a ‘good’ morally upright Black woman. In African American communities many of the rituals of female caregiving—i.e., cooking, socializing children, being the ‘rock’ of the family, attending to holidays, etc.—invariably revolve around or evoke faith and religiosity,” she said in an interview with Feminism and Religion. “Buck these conventions and you’re subversive; challenge them publicly and you’re a race traitor and gender apostate.”

Hutchinson said its incorrect to assume all young people are disengaged from the political process. Sometimes young people hide their political views, so they can fit in, she said. “Youth are naturally political, but are oftentimes not encouraged to think critically and organize within their schools and communities for social change because of ‘apolitical’ cultures of low expectations that stifle dissent and non-conformity,” she said.

Like many other younger leaders Hutchinson, also use social media to spread her message.

“I use it (social media) to highlight work that I and/or others are doing, promote material that I’ve published, and introduce collaborations with partner organizations,” she said. “It provides an easily accessible platform to make contact with likeminded individuals and organizations and is an important educational tool for bringing causes and issues to the fore.”

Veteran community activist Najee Ali said he has been pleasantly surprised by some of the future leaders he has seen developing, noting Rev. K.W. Tulloss, president of the National Action Network, Pastor Michael Fisher, a young minister from Compton who is an anti-violence activist in South Central Los Angeles, and Dallas Fowler, who is a political advisor to Mayor Eric Garcetti. Fowler is also active in several grassroots organizations. Ali is also impressed with the way these young leaders have utilized technology to help achieve their goals.

“They have totally harnessed technology to help amplify their message and organize the community into action,” said Ali.

Apart from using the usual social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Ali said young leaders are also livestreaming events to bypass the media and get their message across. During the 2014 Ferguson anti-police protests activists used social media to share pictures and videos before the mainstream media picked up the story.

According to Ali, although the technology has changed, the issues haven’t. He said young political leaders are focused on issues such as police brutality, gang violence, over incarceration, lack of economic opportunity and failing schools. These are issues the Black community has been battling with for the last 30 years.

“They are continuing the fight, but using different strategies,” Ali said.

As a long-time social justice activist, Ali realizes that he has to help mentor and train a new generation of activists. He believes his generation has to help groom future leaders to pick up the baton and fight for social justice.

“We’re (the older generation of activists) not going to live forever,” he said.

Ali said he’s more than happy to share lessons he learned from activists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

“I’m very encouraged,” Ali said. “What I am seeing may not be quantity, but I definitely see quality in the young, Black L.A. leadership.”

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, also a veteran activist, also realizes part of his job is to nurture future leaders who can take over from him.

“There will always be a need to replenish the leadership stock,” he said. “Our task as leaders of another generation is to guide and mentor and encourage young people to step up to the leadership plate.”

Leaders of the new school

John Wood Jr. Sikivu Hutchinson