By Morgan D. Dewey, NRCDV Digital Communications Specialist
This country owes the innovation, wisdom, and passion of young Black leaders who go unnoticed and unnamed in mainstream history books. February boasts both Black History Month and Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. These months are not only for making clear the intersections between violence prevention, Black history, and safety but also for looking toward leaders creating safe and brave spaces and dismantling white supremacy — Black youth leaders.
Anti-Blackness is so entrenched in this country’s systems. We know there will be hurdles, but we also know that Black power and innovation are strong enough to create new liberating systems. Young people have always been at the forefront of movements. Their organizing skills unmatched, and insight wise, yet fresh. Young people have solutions to the problems we’ve been trying to solve — if we’d just listen to them.
While young Black leaders have the drive and wisdom to create this change, this work cannot fall solely on their shoulders. White folks and non-Black people of color must show up. We must all hold our own communities accountable and center Black youth, along with their leadership, joy, and wisdom. It is not until then that white supremacy will be dismantled and safety will be redefined by liberation, transformation, and love.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) acknowledges that the domestic violence movement has a history fraught with anti-Blackness and racism. We acknowledge that racism’s ugly head rears itself in our work, and yet we also are committed to reimagining a future where Black leadership, thought, joy, and power is the guiding force behind anti-violence work.
Arlene Vassell, NRCDV Vice President of Programs, Prevention, & Social Change, imagined a digital communications campaign made for Black youth by Black youth. Living out our values through equitable compensation, intentional leadership, and liberative structures, NRCDV is currently working with Celeste Iroha, Crishelle Bailey, Deborah Austin, and Kaloni James, led by consultant Ana Sanz-Saumeth to guide the development of such a campaign. Engaging over thirty young people and Black leaders and creatives, this campaign, debuting late 2021, will center Black youth experience and focus on storytelling and prevention in conjunction with #1Thing campaign.
Excited for the campaign? We are too. Take a moment to learn a little more about these leaders and their work here:
Ana Sanz-Saumeth (they/them/theirs or she/her/hers)
Ana attended Florida A&M University where she began to feel empowered through her identity as a first generation, queer, non-binary, Afro-Latinx femme. She early on become involved with campus policy and state reform in regards to racial justice, LGBTQIA+ rights, and reproductive health justice through communal work from local grassroots organizations to nationally recognized non-profits. Ana later went on to receive her Masters at Florida International University where she continued to engage in advocacy work through accessible exhibition work that focused on underrepresented identities. Ana has also done organizational work in leading different student organizers across the nation in actions involving anti-sexual violence advocacy work while encouraging them to be involved at a national level as well as on their campuses and in their local communities. She also advocated much of this as an educator in Miami-Dade county’s public school system where she empowered her students to deconstruct systems of oppression through their own dialogue and lived experiences.
Celeste Iroha (she/her/hers)
"My name is Celeste Iroha. I am a current Nursing School student. I am a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse. I have founded a new organization called ‘A New Day’ to help fellow survivors find the safe haven and safe space to be themselves and know that we are stronger together. I was/am a part of the Regional Rapid Response Program with End Rape on Campus and work with It’s On Us to Stop Sexual Assault on College Campuses. I want to be able to share my experiences with the community to make sure that we are able to create positive change we want to see."
Crishelle Bailey (she/her/hers)
"My name is Crishelle and my pronouns are she/her. I am a senior history/pre-law student at Florida A&M University. I have always had a passion for helping others feel comfortable and confident in their own abilities- it makes me happy to see others live out their aspirations! I am very passionate about helping people find their voice and empowering them to share their stories. In my personal time I enjoy reading satirical stories, laughing with my boyfriend at almost everything, strolling around local parks, and listening to people’s life-stories."
Crishelle recommends checking out FAMU Warriors Against Rape on Instagram here.
Deborah Austin (she/her/hers)
"My name is Deborah N. Austin and I am 25 years old (Cancer!), from Yonkers, NY. I am a graduate of Morgan State University with a B.S. in Biology. Currently, I’m a banker and a pharmacy technician in the Baltimore area. I embrace my cultural identity as a person of Cape Verdean, Dominican, and Sicilian descent. My organizational affiliations are F.U.T.U.R.E., a Morgan State based community service and sisterhood. I am also a sister of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc. I proudly identify as a bi-sexual black womxn who is passionate about womxn's issues, LGBTQIA+ advocacy, and racial justice."
Kaloni A. James (she/her/hers)
"I’m Kaloni A. James. I am a Social Work Major with a minor in African and African American studies. I am from New Orleans, Louisiana. Advocating and fighting for equity and equality has always been my passion; whether it’s for BIPOC, domestic violence, sexual assault or mental health. Anyone could find a friend or a listening ear in me. ❤️"
Learn more from Deborah Austin, Celeste Iroha, and Kaloni James on the #NRCDVradio podcast, “Joy, Pride & Passion of Youth Activism” here: