Multitasking in between classes and settling a younger sibling down to lunch, Nupol Kiazolu is like many in her generation, defying the odds and persisting during crisis. Kiazolu says it feels like her platform has grown overnight despite organizing since she was 12 years old.
“I never really expected to blow up in this capacity,” Kiazolu told NewsOne. “So it is still something that I’m getting adjusted to.”
But she says visibility has its challenges. “A lot of times people forget activists and organizers are human beings and we have lives,” said Kiazolu. “We [are] already battling our own experiences every single day navigating this world as a Black person in America and as an organizer going up against a system that is meant to destroy them.”
This is further compounded by the common misconception of Gen Z as an “apathetic generation” unconcerned about the world around them. “[They think] we’re only on social media to look cute and take pictures,” she said. “But in reality, there are young black organizers like myself using social media to galvanize millions of people around the world to actually change it.”
Even without a platform, Kiazolu says she has always been able to bring folks together. “I really value the power of community,” she said. “And you don’t have to be like this mega influencer […] it just depends on how tapped in with you are with your community.”
Kiazolu pointed to the Black Lives Matter uprising that began late last spring as an example of the power of young Black people taking part in a global movement.
Her own path to organizing began in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s killing. According to Kiazolu, her predominantly white middle school thought her silent protest was “too political” and she faced a threat of suspension.
The future lawyer described feeling determined to protect her right to protest. With the help of her math teacher, a Black woman, Kiazolu persuaded her principal not to suspend her but let her make a case for the protest.
“I came across the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines, which in short established the right for students to peacefully organize within school grounds. “My teacher was right there with me again, with a hoodie on,” said Kiazolu. “And I ended up winning the case.”
Kiazolu noted the importance of multigenerational organizing and adults supporting youth leadership. “Adults do have privilege in society,” she said. “It’s definitely important for adults to use that position of privilege to help uplift younger folks and their voices. Kiazolu reiterated the value of adults as fierce allies for youth by showing up for them, next to them, and listening to them about what matters.
Meeting and learning from movement elders has been a high point for Kiazolu. When asked if she could meet anyone, either living or transitioned, without hesitation Kiazolu said Assata Shakur.
“I would just talk to her about her impact,” shared Kiazolu. “Like how she’s empowered us, you feel me? I don’t know if she understands the magnitude of how she’s impacted the next generation of Black leaders, the next generation of Black folks who identify as women. [Or] like how she’s impacting Black queer folks and the Black LGBTQ+ community.”
Thinking about advice to new organizers, Kiazolu shared that folks need to get right. “Make sure that you’re coming into this space for the right reasons because fortunately, and unfortunately, to an extent activism has become trendy,” she said. “I’m all for things becoming trendy for the right reasons. But unfortunately, this movement is being exploited as well, and there are people that are coming into the space for social capital.”
And after nearly 10 years of organizing, Kiazolu says there is no one way to be an organizer. “People just think that all activists are folks that are on the front line 24-7, like me, and that’s not the reality,” she shared. From feeding organizers and members of the community at large, to sharing talents such as dance and storytelling, everyone has a role to play. “There’s so many different ways that you can contribute to this movement.”
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