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Get To Know These 5 Community Organizers

They never became your favorite celebrity activist—and they don’t want to—but these organizers did really amazing work for years.

This decade has been filled with lots of joy, lots of agony, lots of cultural shifts, and more. Perhaps one of the greatest, and most impactful, parts of this decade, is the onslaught of sociopolitical engagement and community organizing. From Oscar Grant, who was murdered just a year before the start of this decade, to Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, the murders of these three Black boys would completely alter how we approached police brutality and the general anti-Blackness innate to the system of policing.

I was one of many people who “got my start,” so to speak, in organizing this decade. One of many who saw a need to engage politics in a very real way; in a way that turned us away from believing in the possibility that america could one day be salvaged and towards a belief that freedom can only come through wreckage. Along the way, I got acquainted with some really dope people who eventually became really good friends and family. They never became your favorite celebrity activist—and they don’t want to—but they did produce really amazing work for years. This is not intended to bring them any sort of “visibility,” but rather to give these organizers their flowers while they can smell them for shifting the material realities of the people in their respective cities. 

As a disclaimer, I have met a lot of amazing people along the way, and if I could highlight them all, I would. For this piece, though, I have just chosen five of my friends from four different regions in the US. Starting with:

Avery Jackson

Avery is a Black nonbinary person originally from Des Moines, Iowa. We first met in Atlanta while both of us were at Morehouse College. In Avery’s time in Atlanta, they have helped build three organizations that served as Atlanta’s first (and only) school-to-community organizing pipeline. The first organizing body was called AUCShutItDown (AUCSID). Mirrored after Shut It Down ATL, AUCSID was the Atlanta University Center’s first non-traditional organization, in that it was not an organization but rather a collective of Clark Atlanta, Spelman, and Morehouse students who refused to register the collective through our schools as to not stifle the work we wanted to do. AUCSID worked closely with community organizations; created a task force recognized by Morehouse and Spelman to combat on-campus rape and queer/trans-antagonism; protested Hillary Clinton, causing the national conversation around her campaign to shift from one of celebration to one of interrogation of her harm towards Black people; introduced new language to our respective campuses that would shift how students and teachers alike spoke about social issues, and so much more. 

Following AUCSID came Atlanta Black Students United (ATLBSU). ATLBSU was an expansion of AUCSID that would include all Black organizers that attended an Atlanta university or college. To cap the pipeline, in the summer of 2016, following the murders of Philano Castille and Alton Sterling, thousands of Atlanta residents took to the streets in protest. For a week, people hashtagged #ATLisReady. That week birthed the start of what would eventually become a nonprofit known as ATLisReady. The organization was intended to connect community members with a specific interest to already-existing organizations pushing work around said interests. It was also intended to connect organizations doing similar work with each other to minimize organizational power and strengthen the People power that each org already had. AiR, as we called it, created a coalition; wrote policy for the city; helped with campaigns around gentrification, and more.

Avery was a part of all of this work and then some. While they were never committed to lateral leadership, and thus were never a “lead organizer,” Avery showed up in every way possible to organize on our behalf. I am honored to have worked with them every step of the way.

You can now find Avery documenting Black people in the South with horses, farms, and a dream. Wild Talk is the name.

Delaney Vandergrift

Delaney is a Black woman originally from a small town in North Carolina and now resides in Raleigh. I first met Delaney through Twitter back in 2016 after she sent out a tweet about Akiel Denkins who had been murdered by Raleigh’s police department. As a person originally from North Carolina, I wanted to offer assistance however I could—despite the fact that I was now in Atlanta. She and I have been best friends ever since. Her commitment to the whole of North Carolina is why it was a no brainer to place her on this list.

In her time organizing in North Carolina, when she wasn’t leading political campaigns as a Political Science student at North Carolina A&T, Delaney organized directly with Raleigh PACT, The Black Leadership Organizing Collective, Ignite NC, and many other youth and Black-led organizations. She served as the National Organizer for the Student Power Network and Education not Incarceration Network and is the co-founder of Black University—a political education organization for Black HBCU students in North Carolina.

With Raleigh PACT, Delaney led direct actions to protest the murder of Akiel. She acted as one of the lead organizers in the Charlotte Uprisings following the murder of Keith Lamont Scott and organized on the behalf of Jose Charles who was beaten by Greensboro’s police department. But Delaney has also flexed her electoral politics muscles. As a Junior, she led David Allen’s campaign for city council. Though they lost, the campaign actively worked against the establishment in Greensboro and the establishment democrats at-large.

Delaney is a powerhouse whose introduction to community organizing was through her love for HBCUs. And that is what still drives her work today. She has led teach-ins, political engagement programs, and so much more. 

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Jason Ajiake

Jason is a Black nonbinary person from the Bay Area in California who now lives in D.C. as a student at Howard University. He and I met back in 2016 as well, and he has been a good friend of mine ever since. Since I’ve known Jason, he has been committed to pushing work that would benefit both the students of his university as well as the surrounding communities. Jason was one of a few students who organized with HUResist, a collective of Black students at Howard who organized for Black liberation and against the oppressive structures of the academe.

Through their work, they protested against and introduced a national conversation around the harms their institution’s president was causing both to the school and the students. One of the most powerful protests they organized was a 9-day occupation in which students took over the administration building with a set of demands around housing, finances, public safety, and more. They were met with tons of pushback from the public, and it’s alleged that some of them were even blackballed and reprimanded by the administration. But the work they organized got some of their demands met and forever changed the ways students protested their schools.

Aside from this work, Jason and his comrades also volunteered at soup kitchens, worked directly with the homeless population in D.C., and more. Howard, and D.C. at large, is better for the work he helped to push.

Delency Parham and Blake Simons

Delency and Blake are two Black men from the Bay Area. I connected with Blake online back in 2016 and we met in person at a convening in 2017. I connected with Delency just this year. Both of them, however, have been integral to developing my leftist politic, and more specifically to how different but interconnected organizing on the west coast is from/to organizing in the Black South.

They have been community organizers for several years. Blake, in particular, started his journey to social consciousness in 2009 after the murder of Oscar Grant. Now, he and Delency both serve as the cohosts of Hella Black Podcast and the founding organizers of People’s Breakfast Oakland—a socialist organization that follows in the revolutionary steps of the Black Panther Party through the commitment to feed, clothe, provide shelter for, and politically educate houseless people of Oakland, CA. With the help of their comrades, Blake and Delency have shifted the material realities of so many people in the area and continue to push work large-scale for Black people in the Bay Area.

Hella Black Podcast and People’s Breakfast are both doing revolutionary work that you should follow and donate to.

In this decade, there have been so many new organizers who have developed a new commitment to Black people and Black freedom struggles. I am lucky to be good friends with five of them, and I consider it an honor to be able to celebrate them at the close of what has been one of the most politically-engaging decades of the last fifty years. In many ways, they have each cemented themselves as parts of the Black Radical Tradition.

Featured Image: Avery Jackson

Da'Shaun Harrison is a nonbinary abolitionist and organizer in Atlanta, GA. They write and speak publicly on race, sexuality, gender, class, religion, disabilities, fatness, and the intersection at which they all meet. Their portfolio and other work can be found on their site: dashaunharrison.com.

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