This semester, I taught Youth and Social Movements with Dave Stovall. The class centered on the relationship between young people and social movements. From the Civil Rights movement to BLM, the course materials incorporated historical, political, and sociological analysis that positioned young people and community organizations as co-joined components essential to developing new approaches to address the conditions of their oppression.

We read three books, SNCC: The New Abolitionists by Howard Zinn, The Young Crusaders by V.P. Franklin, and From #Blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. At times, the material was challenging, but offered us hope through the bravery and tenacity of the young people in movement work. The tenets of resistance, liberation, community, and freedom buoyed us, and we visited them again and again.

Our discussions were rich with personal experiences and invitations for growth. Our conversations were thought-provoking, i.e., feminist masculinity, enclosure, and the line between peaceful protest and self-defense. We grappled with shared experiences of oppression and marginalization, racism, domestic violence, addiction, and mass incarceration. The students were open-minded and vulnerable, listening to differing perspectives and sharing their own. At times, they shared things they weren’t proud of and confronted things that, through societal conditioning, they were not allowed to experience, like fear, sensitivity, and emotionality.

Toward the end of the semester, I asked the students to prepare a creative one-page response to share with the class on how each book defined the concept of resistance, liberation, community, or freedom. Interestingly, the students focused only on resistance and liberation. Here are a few quotes from the responses (sharing with their permission):

“In truth, each meaning of resistance is purposeful and useful in its own way… all facets of heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and unethical treatment of humans must be extinguished in order that equal opportunity and human decency can be ignited.” – Darnell Lane

Liberation is getting educated and getting educated sparks liberation. Liberation is protesting in the form of sit-ins, freedom rides, freedom walks and marches, and not buying where you can’t work. Liberation is the Deacons of Defense and Justice and Black Panther Party choosing to physically fight back. Liberation is demanding equal protection under the law. And finally, liberation is supporting others you know are suffering through the same plight as yourself.” – David Wales

“I saw resistance through the eyes of the oppressor “government.” How its officials used a systematic plan to manipulate laws and policies at the tail end of the Civil Rights era to stagnate the momentum that minorities were gaining.” – Jerel Matthews

“Liberation is set free from oppression.” – Joseph Ward

“Each of the authors concept on liberation resonated with me because the thinking and actions on behalf of these oppressed Black communities, shows the strength, character, and persistence a people has to have in order to not only demand, but take back what is rightfully theirs to begin with, in this case, true God-given Freedom and liberty for all.” – Kenneth Johnson

“Inequality is a threat to democracy because it invalidates all human beings’ rights to live free. Life is supposed to be a community of the living, the co-existing. So who gets to decide how it happens for me? For this reason, I resist.” – Reginald BoClair 

“Mr. Franklin provides us with a glimpse of this resistance and resilience, especially of our young men and women. In that, notwithstanding, that some resistance demonstrations were microcosms of war zones, our young men and women were steadfast in their endeavors for equality. Our women displayed and demonstrated superior bravado and, in part, established a paradigm for viable protests that can exact change.” – Tylon Hudson

In response to the prompt, student Michael Bell created a powerful fictive dialogue, a meeting between representatives of SNCC, the Black Panther Party, the Ku Klux Klan, and the government to state their official positions and purposes. Here’s an excerpt:

     “Moderator: Thank you SNCC. Now we have Mr. Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party.

     Huey: For Self-Defense.

     Moderator: For what?

     Huey: The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

     Moderator: Whatever– You have the mic.

     Huey: The Black Panther Party is a Revolutionary Nationalist group, and we see a major contradiction between capitalism in this country and our interests. We realize that this country became very rich upon slavery and that slavery is capitalism in the extreme. We have to fight two evils, capitalism and racism. We must destroy racism and capitalism (Taylor, 44) Oh yea, and we got guns!” 

One of the students, Kenneth Johnson, was also generous (and brave!!!) enough to write and share with the class a poem he wrote in addition to the prompt. I’ll leave you with it:

Eyes See*I see

Eyes See:

     the brutality perpetuated thru-out our 


     police escaping murder in the first degree,

as the government continues to watch us bleed,

     while safeguarding the assassins of

modern day slavery

Eyes See:

     a continual cycle of hypocrisy,

as blue on Black crime escalates to astronomical degrees,

     yet we march and protest with profound


     cries of a people uniting for justice

and liberty

Eyes See:

     a world filled with political disease

where bigotry and deception dictate the 


     where we’re all resigned the rule of 

imbeciles who now take the lead,

     those who turn a blind eye to all the 

people’s needs

Eyes See:

     a country hell bent on bringing others

to their knees,

     propagating wars far across the seas,

while those living on its own land ravish

under its supremacy,

     shielding the faces of our true enemies

Eyes See:

     a society in dire need, a change has to

come, but one in which we all can believe,

     and if the children are our future let

us plant the seeds,

     uproot these weeds of destruction and 

do away with the system’s dualities

     if every man is created equally then so

let this be

     because with one man’s rule over another

we can never be FREE

I See:

     What my Eyes See,

now tell me, just what do You See

Emily Pierce is a Ph.D. Student and Research Assistant at the University of Illinois Chicago. She formerly investigated police shootings as a Major Case Investigator at the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Her research focuses on the intersections of race, class, and gender and their impacts on police misconduct in Chicago. Her forthcoming dissertation includes a critical analysis of the Chicago Police Department through the lens of police misconduct investigations, including Use Of Force policy changes, protest policing in the Summer of 2020, and Chicago public school closures.