Abstract: WITHDRAWN: Young Black Changemakers and Their Everyday Fight for Racial Equity (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN: Young Black Changemakers and Their Everyday Fight for Racial Equity

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Dominique Mikell, MA, Student and Graduate Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura Wray-Lake, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Elena Maker Castro, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, CA
Jason Anthony Plummer, MSW, MUP, NA, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura Abrams, PhD, Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Elan Hope, Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, NC
Victoria Millet, BS, Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles
Mariah Bonilla, Student Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles

After the senseless police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, the long-standing civic commitments of Black youth and their communities are becoming visible to a larger national audience through political protests and demands for racial justice in local and national institutions. Yet, Black youth are vastly understudied in research on youth civic engagement, and some media portray Black individuals’ civic actions as fleeting and destructive rather than recognizing the legitimacy of civic work. Moreover, beyond social movements, many Black youth engage in everyday fights to be seen, heard, and treated equally in schools and communities. Our qualitative study of young Black changemakers - i.e., highly civically engaged Black youth - aims to illuminate the ways that Black youth work to advance racial justice and make lasting change in the Black community.


This inductive qualitative study included 43 youth identifying as Black, highly civically engaged, between ages 14-18 (65% female) in Los Angeles, CA. One-on-one virtual semi-structured interviews with Black interviewers between February-August 2020 explored various topics including civic activities, motivations and supports for engagement, the role of Blackness and other identities in civic engagement, and meaning-making in the current political moment. Analyses began with line-by-line coding, followed by focused coding, memoing and team discussion to identify major themes.


Racial Justice Motivations. Youth described feeling duty and responsibility to make lasting change for the Black community so that future generations could experience racial equality. Camille said, “We have to help our own people, because no one else is gonna help us...As a Black person, it is my duty and our duty to lift up our own community.” These motivations were a major driving force of everyday acts to challenge inequities and of sustained, organized commitments to racial equity.

Everyday Racial Justice Work. Black youth talked about having to educate non-Black peers in school and social media spaces, especially in the weeks following George Floyd’s murder. For example, KJ shared frustration in trying to explain racial injustice to non-Black people who show surface-level understandings or lack knowledge. Other youth described their everyday existence as aiming to correct negative misconceptions of Black people and “tryin’ to make sure we’re seen as equal”. Although youth recognized the importance of these everyday acts, some felt exhausted and burdened by these roles.

Racial Justice Movement Participation. Through community-based organizations, some youth were actively engaged in Black Lives Matter protests and campaigns to defund police and increase school funding. Youth often worked to challenge systemic inequities in schools, given their vivid, frequent exposure to inequities in school contexts. For some, these experiences were empowering, while others described being ignored by White school administrators or having their voices “trampled” by non-Black people in movement spaces.

Conclusions and Implications

This work contributes to academic and public conversations about Black youth’s racial justice actions in today’s tumultuous times. Implications for organizers and practitioners who work with youth include the need to emphasize healing opportunities, safe spaces, and authentic allyship in work with Black youth.