Panel discussions, chants for change, and a peaceful march Wednesday evening by the Next Gen Initiative all pointed to the new group's effort to improve community engagement.
The group held a community gathering of 80 people at Fell Park in Normal to address solutions to racial injustice and police brutality. Activists Dominique Stevenson, Austin Willis, Thurston Stevenson, and guest business owner Allen Chambers shared their experience with racism by peers and police growing up in Bloomington-Normal.
Stevenson said the group has plans to discuss ideas for community outreach such as new community centers, financial literacy classes, voter registration for the fall election, parenting classes for new fathers, and a career day for black youth.
Chambers told the group that to achieve these goals, it will take a community effort to help the young group gain more experience in activism to make a change and be a voice for everyone.
“We want you guys to tell us what you want so we can be the ones to be like ‘Let’s organize it, let’s go, this is what we’re going for,'” Chambers told the crowd. “We need the answers to some of these questions to come from you guys. It’s times that we don’t have the exact answers, but we have the drive and the strong passion to get answers that we really need for the community.”
The Next Gen Initiative marches through another neighborhood tonight after the listening session at Fell Park. The black advocacy group launched in the wake of the #GeorgeFloyd killing in Minneapolis. pic.twitter.com/L1FQBwKvxK
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The group also discussed changes they want police to make. They said more psychological evaluation of police recruits, 60 hours of college credit and training in new techniques to handle aggressive situations at the police academy would better equip police to work in the community.
“I am a chef and it took me three and a half years to get a bachelor’s degree in food science, and that’s to deal with food that could potentially kill you,” Chambers said. “How could you get less training to deal with people that you could possibly kill?”
They said defunding police would make it more difficult to create those changes, but more funding should go to school resources, teaching black history in classrooms, and more diversity among staff.
One person posed a question about what role non-black community members should play in advocating for change to avoid stepping on the toes of the black community. Group members, who attended protests in Chicago, said they noticed non-black protesters provoking police by screaming in their faces while black protesters remained peaceful and received backlash.
Dominique Stevenson advised the non-black community to be mindful of their actions when fighting for change.
“When you’re standing with the black community, what you do is perceived as the black community, no matter what,” Stevenson said. “Even if you’re on camera doing it, it’s going to come off as the black community did it.”
Attendee Joshua Johnson asked the group about their efforts to include the black LGBTQIA+ community when advocating for black lives. Johnson said the community is often left out of these conversations and wants more voices of black queer and trans individuals to be heard.
“Things like homophobia and misogyny and transphobia are internalized things from the oppressor,” Johnson said. “Those are the things that were internalized by black people because those are the ways we were treated. I feel like those are the things that the black community has to unlearn in order to be able to understand us.”
The group said it takes everybody of all groups to advocate for change and wants to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. They said it would be ideal to include a sub-section group to advocate for black LGBTQIA+ individuals.
Bloomington native Elizabeth McGough said she grew up in a white, conservative home where she was taught the stereotypical and racist ideas about black people from an extended family member. She said it wasn’t until she started dating her boyfriend, who is biracial, that she realized how differently black people were treated by police and prompted her to attend the event.
“We would ride in the car and I would be like, ‘Why are these police looking at us’ you know, I’m not used to this,” McGough said. “There was one time we got pulled over and I was driving and the guy came up and he was not talking to me. I was driving and he was not talking to me, he was talking to my boyfriend in the passenger seat and that breaks my heart because why do you need to talk to him? I’m driving.”
The group led a small, peaceful march near Fell Park singing gospel songs and chanting to call for justice in the wake of George Floyd killed in police custody in Minneapolis along with advocating for an end to racism.
The Next Gen Initiative are new to activism and join other organizations in the community like the NAACP and Black Lives Matter. Thurston Stevenson said their goals are no different from other black-led organizations.
“We’re all fighting towards the same goal and we’re actually even trying to work together with the other organizations," Stevenson said. "We might have different views on certain things, but the ultimate goal is for African Americans to be treated equally and fairly.”
Stevenson said the long-term goal of the group is to educate youth on racial injustice so they are equipped for growth and the fighti to make the world safer for future generations. He said the group will announce its demands for change and upcoming events for the public at the end of the month.
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