“So cool to be led by the young people in our hometown. What they are doing as a part of advancing the BLM movement is punk AF and completely heroic.” Posted Hayley Williams on her Instagram account on June 7th, several days after attending a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest march in Nashville, Tennessee. This event was one of the largest peaceful protests in the city’s history, and it was organized by six young female teens.
There isn’t a single person in the United States that isn’t aware of the social, emotional, and physical turmoil our country is experiencing right now. Whether you are talking about the Coronavirus or the battle for equality, this is a time of marked change for how we treat one another as human beings. People of all races, genders, and sexual orientations are rising up to make their stance on issues that are recent or that have infiltrated our society for far too long known. No longer are they placated by lip service—they are not stopping until they get real change.
So, when it comes to equality, why now? What’s different? The death of 46-year-old George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer in May was not the first case of police brutality toward a black man or person of color. So why is this event the catalyst? Perhaps it’s because of the shocking nature of the brutality. This killing wasn’t done by a weapon—it was done by human on human contact. Perhaps it’s because it was the most difficult to watch, captured in gut-wrenching detail, including the victim pleading for his mama. Someday, historians will look back and find some catchy or pithy way to categorize that moment. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” they might say. But perhaps the reason this event has lit the fire is that there’s finally a generation of people fed up with our country’s racist BS, and they are of an age to rise up and lead us into change.
Which brings us back to those six girls who decided to step up and organize a protest in Tennessee. Those girls—Nya Collins, Jade Fuller, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith, Mikayla Smith, and Zee Thomas—are the creators of the organization Teens For Equality, “Local Nashville students making a difference nationally.” Ready to help make change, they organized a protest at the Nashville State Capitol on June 4th in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their tagline for that event was, “We will not be silenced.” And they weren’t. Unlike so many other protests around the country that are being broken up by police as they deteriorate into violence, the 10,000+ citizens that gathered behind these young people raised their voices and showed their state what a peaceful protest can look like.
“This is amazing. It’s inspiring. We thank and praise everyone who showed up today. What does unity look like? This is what unity looks like. Change is coming. We see it, we feel it, we know it,” the Teens said on an Instagram post featuring powerful photos and a video from the event. In fact, the event was so prolific, the Tennessee House of Representatives called it historic and honored the six girls just two weeks later for the work they had done.
Sometimes though, in a nation of 331 million people, it’s easy for a story like this to go unheard beyond the borders of the state in which it originates. And while news outlets were quick to cover the event, other than giving a brief overview of who they are and praising the Teens for their successful protest, they didn’t necessarily provide a platform for the girls to amplify their message and long-term goals as an organization. Enter Hayley Williams.
Williams, the Paramore frontwoman and recent solo artist, calls Nashville home. She was in attendance that June day at the Teens For Equality protest march, and she was so inspired by what these girls in high school were doing, she decided to hand over the reigns of her Instagram account to them for one day so they could highlight their efforts and spread their message beyond the borders of their city. 2.5 million followers farther.
The takeover began on June 8th with the Teens posting, “We are women. We empower each other, we do not tear each other down, we inspire each other to do the right thing. We need to be unified. There is so much hate spreading throughout the world. Instead of spreading hate we must spread love, we need to stop bashing each other and need to start loving each other. That is how we unify. There is unity in diversity, and beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, creed, sexual orientation, and race. And is how change comes, through unity and community.”
Unfortunately, subsequent posts made by the Teens drew out the social media trolls. Despite a harsh warning from Williams the day before, (“Please be kind, respectful, and listen with humility. Jerks get a fast-pass to blocked city”) negative comments began to flow and Teens For Equality felt it best to pull down all but their first post out of respect for Hayley’s account.
Williams wasn’t having it though. As soon as she took back the reigns, she reposted the deleted posts with the statement: “Today an incredible group of teen activists from Nashville took over my IG account. Before they logged off, they took down a couple of their posts- because those things were controversial and they received a lot of backlash in comments section. Now, I (Hayley) am back in the saddle and I will be reposting their original posts because the thing I want to be illuminated here is that young people are a VITAL part of the BLM movement. I don’t want them to be silenced. Their passion is pure and earnest. Their activism is aspirational.
The conversation around systemic oppression was never going to be a comfortable one. Neither was the one around police brutality. Nor is the one around white privilege. But the conversation is going to happen. It has to. ITS OVERDUE.
I’m so so proud of these young women for entering into (and even starting!!) these conversations.”
And her statement could not be more true. Young people are a vital part of this movement. Teens For Equality aren’t the only group of young people doing their part to end racism. There is More Empowering Events Please (MEEP) in Orange County, CA, HoCo for Justice in Columbia, MD, and other bands of teens connecting through technology and over social media to organize protests in their hometowns every day. These youth are a big part of why we are seeing change now—because they aren’t afraid to speak their minds, step out of the shadows, and stand up for what is right. It’s also inspiring to see celebrities, like Hayley Williams, who have a platform and an audience, unapologetically supporting these teens and their organizations as they try to make this nation better. When they finally do figure out how to classify and describe this point in our time, those are the people that are going to be remembered for being on the right side of history. Which side will you be on?