During last summer's racial justice protests that saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets nationwide, one group captured the energy and demands of Gen-Z like no other: Freedom March NYC.
Co-founded by Brooklyn residents Chelsea Miller, 24, and Nialah Edari, 25, the group has quickly become one of the largest youth-led civil rights organizations in the nation.
A path to accountability
After the police killing of George Floyd, Miller and Edari both joined protests taking place in Brooklyn.
After seeing confusion amongst protestors and a lack of leadership, as well as the warped narrative of "looters and rioters," the pair decided to hold their own march with specific demands for police accountability and a clear-cut path to reclaiming the narrative of peaceful protesting.
The first protest was held on May 31, the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, in Washington Square Park. Miller and Edari called on allies to spread the word and in just a few hours the number of protestors gathering swelled into the hundreds.
Miller said the aim of the group was to act with the same sense of urgency people were taking towards COVID-19, with the pandemic of racism "that has been killing Black and Indigenous folk for a lot longer." COVID-19 had only exacerbated and accentuated issues and inequities within the Black community, she said.
Following the first march, Miller, Edari and lead organizer Nia White raised more than $50,000 to build and expand Freedom March NYC to train dedicated organizers and protestors across the nation in nonviolent mobilization. "On that night I felt the power in my voice, and that is also when I noticed that nobody was planning on going home," White said. "That was the moment I knew Freedom March would grow and never stop."
As a first-generation American, the daughter of hardworking immigrants and a Flatbush-native, Miller said she had an intimate understanding of what it meant to fight in a system meant to oppress.
Both Miller and Edari were involved in activism at Columbia University as part of the Lambda Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first Black Greek sorority founded in 1908.
In 2016, Miller was one of the youngest interns in the Obama White House working on domestic policy. She went on to start her own nonprofit Women Everywhere Believe, a national leadership pipeline for women and girls of color. She told Rolling Stone she had always been passionate about creating more opportunities for young Black girls.
Miller said her activism wasn't just about being on the front lines, but about taking a 360 approach. "We work on policy, civic engagement, voter mobilization and just amplifying the message using digital organizing."
She urged people to "not be a bystander to the movement," and said it was imperative folks amplified the voices of Black women leaders and showed up for trans-women.
Miller and White both said the motivation behind their work was so future generations did not have to add more names to the list of Black people killed at the hands of a systemically racist society.
"We can't expect an issue that has spanned generations to suddenly be solved in a day," Miller said. "We cannot pack up and go home. We cannot leave this work without due reckoning, and for me that looks like showing up consistently. As a Black woman in this country, I do not have the liberty of leaving."
Miller added: "The Civil Rights Movement never ended. We are in the Civil Rights Movement of our generation, and will continue to be. It is on us to be beholden to history."
Currently, the group is working on policy change and voter registration and information, as well as direct actions. To join, donate and volunteer for Freedom March NYC click here.