Every now and then someone mentions to me that they think I am “too cool” and I never believed my own hype because I honestly didn’t know what “cool” even meant up until recently. Growing up, my mom used to always tell me, “I didn’t raise you to be no follower!’ That phrase was embedded into me and I learned over time going through my own trials and tribulations that not only is it much easier to follow than it is to lead, but it is also way cooler. Leadership requires much more selfless energy because being in a leadership position requires you to put others before yourself. It takes a certain kind of individual to be willing to not only put others before themselves for a greater cause but to put others’ needs before their own even it means giving up their life for such a cause. It’s often a lonely road. We currently are living in a very opinionated era in which it’s easy to go on social media and voice our opinions about an issue we don’t agree with where we may or may not be heard. It’s a different feeling when we can physically organize a group of people who believe the same thing and march in front of the White House to express our disapproval of decisions being made with higher leadership.
I was trying to figure out how to express what I was feeling about police, white supremacy and black oppression over the last 400 years, but instead I wanted to do something different this time around. I wanted to ask some of our young upcoming leaders and organizers for their perspective on the matter and how they decided to approach changing the broken justice system. I interviewed two young community leaders in the city of Pasadena who organized their own marches. Those leaders are 28 year old Nadia Elhawary and 21 year old London Lang, both young people of color and native Pasadena residents. Nadia and a few of her old students and friends (Breannah Gamble – 19, Makaliah Jenkins – 18, and Deziana Torres – 27) helped organize the large protest in Pasadena on Sunday June 6th which hosted over 600 people. The march started at La Pintoresca Park and they marched down Fair Oaks and ended in front of City Hall. London and a few of his comrades organized a march in South Pasadena at the intersection of Mission St. and Fair Oaks, which is an area not known for protest at all. Below I asked them a few questions to see where their heads are at in the current climate and what inspired them to take action.
Good Afternoon Nadia, organizing and planning can be very tiring work, my first question is how are you doing mentally and physically?
Honestly I am tired. Some days I want to organize the next protest but my body at times rejects that and I try my best to listen to my body. As my home girl said “ain’t no movement if we aren’t healthy enough to move.” Reminding me how crucial it is to really take care of my health and continue healing. When I am taking time to recharge, I turn to healing practices our ancestors used such as sage, crystals and just holistic practices in addition, taking time to be in nature and with animals helps recharge me.
Can you please explain who you are and what inspired you to take action to organize a peaceful movement against police brutality?
I am Nadia Elhawary, a Brown woman that is both North African and Central American. I grew up in Pasadena, CA and I am currently working in Pasadena because our hood needs more warriors to combat all that we are going through, especially with being pushed out right now due to gentrification. I am an educator that serves as both a counselor and a teacher. In the fall, I will be a professor that teaches college classes to high school students at my former high school (John Muir).
I am relieved that more folks are talking about anti-blackness and how white supremacy truly impacts every aspect of our life, but for me this work has been continuous and ongoing for years. This movement has just amplified the work. What motivated me to do this particular protest with my team was that Pasadena needs to hear from young people and the current generation. Two of the four of us are graduating high school and young people’s voices should be at the center of every single movement. Also I have seen so many people leaving the community to attend protests when we should be able to attend a protest in our city, in our own community which is where the idea was born.
We wanted to change it up and include a space after the march for artists to express themselves. We even had a DJ for people to be free through dance as our ancestors did in a time where we are all hurting. We wanted to create a space for healing and to let our pain and hurt out. People may think of Black n brown folks as invincible, but we need these spaces to feel joy and release pain during these times.
As a young woman of color in America, what do you think are the first steps we should take to start to redesign the justice system?
First you gotta talk to the people who are most impacted by it.
In education, I ensure to keep my students’ experiences at the forefront. Their voices shape my classroom and everything I do. When I began working at Muir, I asked students what they felt was missing and the main concern was not enough resources or a safe space for girls. I used their direct voice to create a girls center and their voices guided me through every single step.
With that, people too often make decisions on behalf of Black and brown folks and those who are currently or formerly incarcerated without ensuring they’re at the center of that discussion.
Restorative justice is great, but we need concrete ideas from folks who have been through it on what has worked or could work or what they wish they had that could’ve helped them.
Do you believe we have any leaders currently that have the same impact that Martin Luther King. Jr. or Malcolm X had on culture? If not, do you think people are afraid to step up and become leaders?
I see so many people with so much impact now. We now have so much more access to staying connected to the movement. And this revolution doesn’t only have a couple leaders as the face of the movement anymore. Instead there are various leaders on the front line pushing the movement forward and SO many people who have that same impact in different capacities. Our generation also seems to understand how essential each role is in the movement and how it is not only the face of the movement that keeps it going (visual below of what I mean). I believe our history/her story/their story books will also reflect the various roles rather than only highlight the feel-good story and leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) and how white people glorified him but did not talk about more radical leaders or Black women in the movement.
Where do you think we as a nation will be in 10 years if we stay persistent about our issues?
This has been a long time coming. With COVID, people became MORE frustrated and angry with the system. But this was one of the first times in my lifetime where the country was on hold, where we had a pause and time to reflect. When George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery were both killed, we did not all have the same distractions we had before. We had to sit in that. Reflect on it. And through that the movement was born.
I truly believe in 10 years we will have way less funds allocated to police departments. More folks will follow the lead of San Francisco and have a team of trained professionals to respond to non “criminal” calls. I believe we will have more funds put towards education and mental health services.
I believe we will be getting to a better place with moving away from mass incarceration and ICE detention centers will no longer exist. A post that stuck to me is people think defunding the police is radical but that is also how abolishing slavery was seen and I FELT THAT. I know it is possible that we will defund the police with folks who continue this groundwork such as myself and proper leadership (a non-white, male president) and more women of color such as AOC, our government, legislative and those spaces.
Good afternoon, London. Organizing and planning can be very tiring work. My first question is how are you doing mentally and physically?
I’m doing great. My hopes are high for change, a little shy to speak to my city officials, but for the most part I’m ready for anything and excited for the future.
Can you please explain who you are and what inspired you to take action to organize a peaceful movement against police brutality?
My name Is London Lang. I’m a South Pasadena resident that wanted to turn negative thinking into positive. My sister was shot with rubber bullets and hit with a baton. I wanted to harm the police in any way I could, bruising or spraining my leg in the process. I was able to hurt them and started using words. I visited my sister in the hospital to bring her food. I felt the want to hurt police again. I knew I couldn’t go to L.A. to protest because I’d only make my leg worse. I chose my town in South Pasadena as it was very chill and could use A LOT of change.
I stood by myself and people then started to flock. So I organized what I should do by putting tape on the floor to socially distance and provide snacks, water, and posters for those who needed them. Since Day 2 was fun, Day 3 we heard the city council, mayor, and chief of police wanted to meet. Day 4 I created a team and we held a meeting in the park to discuss change. Day 5 I had dinner with a city official and one of my team members to discuss what is wrong with the city. Day 6 we spoke to the city clerk who came to show support. Today’s day 7. I have no idea what’s gonna happen, but hopefully it’s special. Would also like to say each day starting from Day 1 the crowds got bigger and people started making their own protests down the street. Was cool. I’ve become an inspiration to people and I don’t want to let them down so this is why I do it. IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!
As a young black man in America, what do you think are the first steps we should take to start to redesign the justice system?
We need systemic changes. No more choke-holds, defund the police. Police need to understand that they (must stop) racial profiling, cops need psych evaluations BEFORE hire not after and to continue those psych evaluations throughout the job. And many more.
Do you believe we have any leaders currently that have the same impact that Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X had on culture? If not, do you think people are afraid to step up and become leaders?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t really pay attention to racism too much if I’m gonna be honest. Schools kinda taught us racism is over. Is there a need for another Malcom X or MLK? Or should we just fight the police and our local departments together? When I went to the L.A. Protest it lacked organization, lacked skill, lacked goals. People were literally there to just walk. I don’t care about walking. What will a walk do? You can show numbers, you can make offensive signs asking for change, but all in all will the people you’re sending a message to respond the way you want to if you’re a huge mess? Yes they did eventually listen, but they could have listened faster with organization and a true leader. No, there is no new MLK or Malcom X, there are just people doing what they think is right, and sometimes they are, but no one will step up and be a leader. Everyone is a follower of others in my personal opinion.
Being black we have had to deal with police harassment and brutality since the day we started breathing. We have been pleading with America for years to “stop killing us”, we have also had video evidence, but the George Floyd incident finally was able to show a black man being executed in real time for the world to see. It seems like for the first time in history this situation created enough anger for everyone of all ethnic backgrounds to unify to speak out about black people being killed by police. Where do you think we as a nation will be in 10 years if we stay persistent about our issues?
In 10 years, I have no clue what will happen, not even a slight idea. Sometimes I feel it’ll still be the same. Once those cops got arrested people gave up, even before change happened. I say we still need to keep really looking deep into the police manuals because there is some underlined BULLS*** in them. I’m sure the cops don’t even know what they could do that would affect their citizens. Once those rules are changed, if ALL police departments are punished to the point they have to earn things back, maybe they’ll straighten up. That’s my hope. Keep fighting until we see change. See how they react, what they do with time and lightly reward them for good deeds. Just like a child 😉.
These two passionate individuals pushing for defunding law enforcement and fighting injustices against black lives are not protesting because it is something they find “trendy’ or because it’s cool at the moment. Last time that I checked we will wake up as people of color today, tomorrow, and the day after that. Our skin color & ethnic background is something we can’t change and I am proud that I can’t change them. So what is ‘cool’? For me, it isn’t supporting the Black Lives Matters movement because it’s the cool thing to do right now. ‘Cool’ for me looks like people stepping up in the time of need to organize others to make a difference and hopefully create change in a broken system where countless lives are being lost due to police brutality against people of color. ‘Cool’ is having those tough conversations and practicing anti-racism in our homes. ‘Cool’ is studying, asking questions and communicating so we are understood and accepted for our different cultures. Cool is supporting black businesses and creators and trying to uplift the black community because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s the ‘cool’ topic of conversation right now.