My initial reaction to the grand jury’s decision in the killing of Mike Brown: I wasn’t surprised, but it hurt nonetheless. I felt momentarily helpless. With Eric Garner, I was angry. I think many of us assumed this would be the one case where we got some justice—it was on camera and ruled a homicide by the coroner. So it was a blow to the stomach when the decision was not to indict. In both cases we just wanted it to go to trial, and it didn’t. The bar is set so low.

The resulting protests happening across the country are a testament to the fact that these cases don’t happen in a vacuum. Whether you’re in Ferguson, New York City or Laurinburg, North Carolina, this can and does happen in your community. The protests are also a collective response to years of compounded trauma, and we all felt our breaking point at the same time.

In the midst of this I’ve seen many groups, nonprofits, coalitions and self-organized youth coming out and protesting with signs, justified rage and also demands. Some think a lot of this organic uprising is just chaos. But people do have demands and action steps if those demands aren’t met. The coalition I volunteer with, Justice League NYC, has a list of demands folks can check out at

Young leaders aren’t emerging; we are here. We’ve been here. We’re also the ones being profiled, abused and gunned down by cops. This is not to ask our beloved and wise elders to “pass the baton,” as folks like to say—run along with us, just let us take the lead now.

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This contribution, along with others exploring the new civil rights movement, appears in ESSENCE’s special #BlackLivesMatter issue. This historic collector’s edition is available on stands January 9.


The Editor’s Letter: The Path Forward
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Angela Davis

Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Patrisse Cullors
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Isabel Wilkerson
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Chirlane McCray
Where Do We Go From Here?: Essay by Sunny Hostin