Last July, I witnessed Charlene Carruthers, drenched in sweat and filled with anguish, command the attention of a large crowd in response to the fatal police shooting of 37-year-old Harith Augustus, a Black Chicagoan. I saw the faces of so many activists — including attendees from that year’s Black Youth Project 100 convening — watching her as she chronicled the latest updates from Augustus’ family and friends. With determined eyes, a bullhorn, and an electrifying voice, she invited those who knew the slain man to share about who he was and why they loved him. After hours of rallying and gathering resources for protesters (like ice, milk, and first aid), it felt as if we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. She calmed us while spurring a fire in our hearts.
This was Charlene in action, demonstrating true, remarkable leadership in one of her last months as BYP100’s first National Director. After assuming the role in November 2013, she laid the foundation for the member-based organization to become a queer, feminist political home for young Black activists. She inspired robust dialogue on eschewing the patriarchy and rigorous praxis of accountability. And within its first five years under her leadership, BYP100’s membership (and leadership) swelled, resulting in eight chapters throughout the United States.
Late last summer, when she released her first book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, she cemented herself in the Movement for Black Lives as a gifted and trusted thought leader. She believes in the scholarship of social change — that it is something to be rigorously studied, analyzed, and tested. In an era of performative activism, Carruthers is a reminder that steady, hard work still remains the core element of effective organizing. “At some points, I'll be at the forefront, and for others, I'm there to support,” she says. “Fighting, for me, basically means demanding my humanity in the face of so many systems, institutions, and even individuals telling me that I don't deserve it.” But her most important message is that there’s a place in the Movement for everyone — whatever their lane is. “This work means different things for different people. You can be a community organizer, a writer, an artist, an educator, a caretaker, a therapist, or even some type of healing justice practitioner. That's all the work.”
Even as a younger freedom fighter with decades of progress still left to be achieved, Charlene is clear that the world will only be significantly changed if there are many hands involved. But so long as she’s on the front lines of this new generation, we can rest assured that liberation will be more possible in our lifetimes.