Generation A: Young Activists Learn From the Past

On Monday, March 13th, 2017, Dr. Allan Boesak, Chair of the Desmond Tutu Center spoke at a United Way’s Emerging Leaders event entitled, “Generation A: Young Activists Learn from the Past”. Boesak began his address by citing some famous questions posed by  W.E.B. Du Bois: In the face of oppression what will integrity do? In the face of deception what will honesty do? In the face of brute force what will virtue do? In the face of insult what will decency do? These were questions used to help the marginalized respond to systematic oppression.

Boesak continued the conversation by explaining how internationally we live in a world that commits daily insults on dignity, humanity and basic human rights. Where injustices like misogyny, racism and homophobia have progressed from being individualized issues to being institutionalized into the educational system, penal system and in the home. He continued to explain the extent of how far people will go to protect the systems of privilege, like white supremacy, that they benefit from. As an example Boesak recounted that in both the 1960 and 1976 marches against the South African Apartheid protesters, including children, were killed by police. Similarly to the killing of African Americans in the United States, citizens’ lives were taken away to protect a system that benefits only a few. The conversation ended with a question about what young people can do to help fight these systems of oppression while still keeping the integrity, honesty, virtue and decency that were highlighted by W.E.B Du Bois. Dr. Boesak expressed the importance of mobilization to create genuine resistance and yield concerted action. Additionally, Boesak stressed the importance of discretion when mobilizing against oppressive government systems. This also brought up the idea of having leadership being across an entire movement and not just centralizing on a single leader. By nurturing the leadership of  multiple individuals within a movement the movement itself is made stronger overall.  

This event goes to show how Social Activism seems to reinvent itself over and over again. As generations go on the methods of activism change and are often criticized by the previous generation. Pointing to this disconnect between older and younger activists, as I sat and observed the audience I noticed the majority of the guests were adults not youth. As a student and young person, I was concerned about the lack of attendance from the youth in the community. In order to decrease the disconnect between the older and younger generations as it relates to oppressive systems, all parties must be seated at the table. Pointing to the importance of youth in any protest movement, Boesak said, “children remain hungry for justice” and the youth are responsible for the change that happens in the community. Making the connection between his experience in the South African Apartheid, Black Lives Matter and the occupation of Palestine, Boesak pointed out how all the movements were led by the youth because they were not afraid of making sacrifices if it was going to change their future.


Written by: Bintou Doumbia

Partner: United Way of Central Indiana

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