OPINION: Change starts at home: The young activists behind Never Stay Silent
The video above is an interview with NSS members Jozette Luke, Brianna Jones and Blaze Ho’omakoa.
In smaller communities and for those new to activism, organizing can seem daunting. With a call for change echoing on a national and global level, the question of where to start can be answered by simply looking at where you call home.
Never Stay Silent is an organization based in the Central Valley of California — an area made up of small towns and spaced out by acres of agriculture. The group began with an idea and a Facebook page. By realizing that change begins at home and acknowledging their power to ignite it, the members have been able to inspire their peers to do the same. Together, their passion and efforts have grown into a locally known powerhouse that has rallied together people of all ages.
The collective began their outreach on Facebook, creating the Modesto March page and organizing a protest in a matter of days. Since then, the group has flourished into what is now a resource for education, inspiration and community.
“Why march in Modesto?” was a question the young organizers were asked when putting on their first protest back on May 31.
“The reality is [that] we face racism and injustice anywhere in the world,” said Brianna Jones, co-founder of NSS. “It’s recognizing that you don’t need to go to a bigger city, we can fight it here where we work, where we lay our head down.”
Hundreds of citizens turned out for the march and looked to the online page for information, creating a demand for an organizational resource that the young activists gracefully cultivated. Through their efforts on and offline, NSS has worked with multiple other activist groups across the Valley and aims to bring equality and equity to their small towns.
“Those things that big cities are pushing for and that you see all over the news, it’s the same thing [here]," explains co-founder Jozette Luke. "Just because our city is smaller doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for the same things."
Luke goes into detail, explaining that “Black and brown communities [are] underserved here. There are communities here that don’t even have sidewalks… that don’t even count as a district so they don’t get any representation in city council. These are things that we have to start bringing light to.”
The group has put together an array of demonstrations, beginning with a march against police brutality and racial inequality on May 31 and a 24-hour sit-in on June 6. Their Juneteenth event was a long-awaited first for Modesto, Calif. that featured local Black artists and creatives, other organizations such as Modesto Pride, and on-sight resources such as voter registration. Their most recent demonstration was a march and rally held on the Fourth of July.
NSS uses their social media platforms to inform Central Valley citizens of both their upcoming demonstrations as well as local and national news and accompanying actions items.
“We’re basically here to educate the masses,” Jozette explained. “You don’t have to stand with exactly what we’re standing for, but stand for something. Stand for something or fall for everything. We want people to know that the power is within us, it belongs to the people.”
Never Stay Silent also emphasizes the importance of supporting an array of issues related to injustice and inequality. During their march on July 4, posters and chants called for the attention of LGBTQ+ rights, abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and so on. When they aren’t organizing protests themselves, the NSS members have made it a priority to support neighboring activist groups such as Vote 4 The Valley and Teens For A Change.
“At the end of the day we’re all fighting for the same thing,” Jones said.
Luke, Jones, Blaze Ho’omakoa, Courtney Ford and Malik Lothery are the five twenty-somethings that currently lead the organization. Connected geographically as well as in their care for humanity, they uphold their mission of inspiring people to get involved in making social change regardless of age, background, economic status, race, etc.
Blaze accredits their success to not only the community’s desire for change but also their steadfastness, saying, “This group is really, really strong-minded about the way that they handle situations." The members share a commitment to honesty and transparency. "You can’t go wrong if you’re just putting facts out there… You can never be in the wrong for educating people on things. That’s something that I’ll stand by forever.”
As young adults, school, work and the overall rat race of trying to find your place in life can be overwhelming. Factoring in civic duties and wanting to make an impact can seem unfeasible beyond an Instagram post or retweet. Blaze speaks on the intersection of social media and social change being more accessible to younger generations, stating that “We know how to work the platforms… It’s almost like a game.”
Drawing people in online is all about algorithms, aesthetics and accessibility. NSS has a very strong online presence, accumulating over 1,000 Instagram followers in less than a month. Brianna explains the approach as “sweet and simple”. Their posts provide an array of information while getting to the point and offering resources for viewers to research topics in-depth.
Never Stay Silent doesn’t plan on confining their efforts to the summer. Their goals for the future include getting NSS clubs in all of the local high schools to be led by other students. Ideally this would create an opportunity for young people to get involved with a broader span of issues early on and provide a space to talk about things that they aren’t necessarily taught in class. “Kids are never too young to hear about what’s right,” Jones said.
“I never want young adults to get caught up in this fast-paced way of living,” Jones continued. “I want them to understand that… if you want to do it, you can do it. You have the power within you to make change. In order for us to truly have long-lasting effective change — the older generation can learn from us and we can learn from [them].”
The saying “think globally, act locally” relates to the mission of the activist group. National issues are often challenged without a focus on smaller communities and how the two coincide. Brianna stated that “It’s the local change that you will make in your city that will overall make a difference within the world. If we start to make little changes within our cities, everywhere around the world, you’re already closer to change.”
Brianna Jones leaves us with a message to all young people looking to make a difference: “Never be discouraged by small beginnings.”
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