YOUth In Power - Kenyatta Thomas

Image:    Kenyatta Thomas

Image: Kenyatta Thomas

Youth hold all the power in the world. When we come together and put our minds together, we are building the future of our world. We can’t wait until we’re ‘old enough.’ Laws are being passed in the present. Actions are being taken by legislators that could forever change our world. We have to take action now, as the people who will inherit the world, to make sure its the best one possible.
— Kenyatta Thomas

Kenyatta Thomas is a 19-year old student organizer and bold social justice advocate. Being a powerful black and queer advocate from Mississippi, Kenyatta has encountered many challenges, but has consistently been a champion for womxn’s rights and reproductive justice for all. Kenyatta has worked with Planned Parenthood, Women’s March Youth Empower, and many other organizations fighting for change.

As a child of a teen mom, Kenyatta became passionate about reproductive justice, resulting in becoming an advocate.

I'm the child of a teen mom. My mom had my older brother when she was 14 years old. There's a 21-year age gap between my brother and myself, so I didn't see firsthand what my mom experienced as a young mother. However, I heard stories from her about what life was like. She wasn't adequately supported by the government or her own family for the most part. In addition to that, I saw young girls from the time I was in 7th grade becoming pregnant, all while we were having abstinence-based "sex education" shoved down our throats. All of these experiences kind of culminated into me seeing Planned Parenthood tabling at my local Equality Fest in October 2017. I signed up as a volunteer because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help educate young people about their options when pregnancy occurs. I wanted to help young people know the ways to prevent pregnancy and help them get the resources they need if they choose to parent. Ever since October 2017, I've been non-stop!

Kenyatta is from Mississippi, a state that is fairly red. Despite the challenges that come along with that, Kenyatta has used them as motivation.

I don't think I would be an activist if I wasn't from Mississippi. Living in a state where racism, sexism, homophobia and every other -ism runs rampant in our culture and is reinforced by the views of our representatives and the laws they pass forces you to take a stand for yourself. You have to take a stand for yourself. Even without meaning to be an activist, I think every person of color, every queer person, every woman, every immigrant, is an activist. Organizing within Mississippi makes the activist burnout ten times harder because it feels like we never get a victory. Every fight feels like an uphill battle. I often feel isolated alone, even within the private Facebook groups and at the canvasses. Sometimes, it feels like I won't make a difference. However, I'm thankful for every experience. I think that southern organizers are the toughest people in the world. We have to be.

Change doesn’t happen right away, and Kenyatta’s advice is to never give up, especially in spaces like red states, where it may be harder to make change than in others.

Don't ever ever ever give up. You won't get these solid, in-your-face victories that people from more liberal states get. And that's okay. Every person that you inspire to sign up to volunteer is a victory. Every person that you canvass is a victory. Every mind you change is a victory. The Civil Rights Movement didn't happen overnight. The change that we are trying to make is systemic and, honestly, we may not see the exact results that we want in our lifetime. Whenever I get defeated, I turn to a quote from the musical Hamilton: "Legacy. What is a legacy? It's planting seeds in a garden you never get to see." Plant those seeds of change so that future generations of this world will never know the struggle we have. 

Image:    Kenyatta Thomas

Image: Kenyatta Thomas

As a black and queer activist, Kenyatta has seen additional challenges, even within progressive spaces.

Sadly, a lot of bias and prejudice comes with the work, even within progressive spaces. As a black person who is also queer, I have difficulty navigating conversations about queer experiences in black spaces. As a queer person who is also black, I have difficulty navigating conversations about black experiences in queer spaces. There are homophobic black people and racist queer people. There's definitely a sense of feeling like I don't really belong anywhere. And it's incredibly hard to try to call people in about their bias and their treatment of me. A lot of progressives walk around on high horses because they think that they are so much better than conservatives and Republicans so they aren't willing to listen to ways that they aren't perfect and are causing harm. Even if they're tough conversations to have, I have to have them. The only way to make our movement truly inclusive and intersectional, when I feel disrespected, I have to speak up. 

Despite all of the challenges that come along with this work, Kenyatta’s future children are the reason to keep up the fight.

I want to be a mother eventually and, even though they don't exist yet, my future children motivate me. The thought of me building a better world for them keeps me going. 

If we ever want true equity and equality, marginalized voices must be put at the forefront of the social justice movement.

If our voices aren't heard, then what's the point? The point of social justice is to bring equity to our world. If you aren't putting the most disadvantaged people at the forefront of your work, then who are you actually helping?