Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


We Belong!! Urban Youth Organizing and Resistance

An article at the New York Times on Sunday highlights the message of many youth organizing movements taking hold around the world, including the United States.

The article describes a series of protest demonstrations that have been taking place in Sao Paulo, Brazil in recent months. Many people would like to believe that large youth demonstrations and activities are either violence-prone or otherwise associated with some form of delinquency. A closer look reveals that youth are increasingly clear about the larger societal and political dynamics that shape their lived experiences, and are prepared to demand more than the current status quo.

Since the rolezinhos involve large numbers of dark-skinned teenagers, those moves have raised accusations of racial profiling as well as the nagging question of why shopping centers are such coveted sites of social interaction in São Paulo and other Brazilian cities where parks remain few and far between. “Kids from the lower classes have been segregated from public spaces, and now they’re challenging the unwritten rules,” said Pablo Ortellado, a public policy professor at the University of São Paulo.

Placing the rolezinhos into the context of economic shifts percolating throughout Brazilian society, Mr. Ortellado pointed out that rising living standards for the poor over the last decade had already jolted the country’s upper classes. One example is airports being frequented by travelers who are flying for the first time.

It's always great to watch entire segments of a population who have been largely invisible to the ruling and middle class start to assert themselves, and insist on being seen. While this is happening on the international level, it parallels other youth movements in the U.S. and elsewhere. Racism is real, and youth see it - indeed live it - every single day.

“We’re revolted by the prejudiced posture of some malls,” said Jussara Basso, 38, a leader of the squatters, some of whom held aloft cash and bank cards when they were not allowed to enter the malls. “It’s clear that some establishments don’t want a lot of customers who are poor and black.”

And they won't be turned away so easily...

Facing the prospect that rolezinhos may intensify and spread to cities beyond São Paulo, the gatherings are exposing other sentiment among some in elite urban areas. In Rio de Janeiro, where a rolezinho was planned for Sunday at a mall in Leblon, the city’s most exclusive seaside district, a judge barred the event, arguing that its participants could cause “public disorder.” The upscale mall, for its part, closed for the day on Sunday.

About a hundred participants showed up anyway at the rolezinho in front of the mall in Leblon. Gizele Martins, who writes for a community newspaper in Complexo da Maré, an area in Rio of favelas, or slums, said doing so was “a political act, to tell society we belong to it, that we’re not on the margins of it.”

The spirit of resistance lives! And the language is clear... We belong!!

While this is happening in Brazil, a parallel youth organizing movement is underway in the U.S., including both the Black Youth Project and the Dream Defenders.

The dream lives on in the hearts, and in the actions, of our youth!

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