Engaging Black Millennials 101

People gather to protest on Sept. 29, 2016, in El Cajon, Calif., at the site where an unarmed black man, Alfred Olango, 38, was shot by police.
David McNew/Getty Images

The narrative that black millennials aren’t enthusiastic about the 2016 election is false. We understand the power of voting. We know what’s at stake for black communities. We understand the magnitude of the election. We are not ignorant of our history of struggle against systemic oppression and institutional racism. What we are is frustrated and disillusioned with candidates at the state, local and federal levels who refuse to explain how they will invest in our communities or advance our liberation.

This frustration and lack of enthusiasm about the presidential candidates has raised concerns about whether we’ll vote in this year’s election. A host of groups, fearing that we won’t, are trying to engage us—some with success, and others with flaming failure. For those who want to do it well, here are three things you can do:


1. Recognize our leadership … and our disillusionment.

Our nation has collective amnesia about who black millennials are and what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years. It was millennials who ignited the Movement for Black Lives and screamed #BlackLivesMatter when law enforcement brutalized and took the lives of innocent, unarmed black men, women and children. It was black millennials who gave life to the #ByeAnita campaign that ousted State's Attorney Anita Alvarez after Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed Laquan McDonald in Chicago. And let’s not forget, the work of black millennials helped put President Barack Obama in the White House—twice. Please recognize our successes in making real change happen.

The broken promises and moral bankruptcy of some elected officials have blocked the justice that our community deserves. We realize that we must be the ones to dream and reimagine what prosperous, healthy and safe black communities look like. Don’t shame us. Encourage us to walk in our lived truths and celebrate the strides we have made.

2. Realize it’s not just about voting.

Voting is just one tool in a toolbox that black millennials are using to dismantle white supremacy. We know we must organize and protest to build political power in tandem with voting.


We revere our foremothers and forefathers whose march in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade helped turned the tide of the civil rights movement. We honor the courageous and visionary work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that advanced freedom across the South and the nation. If we want to dismantle systemic racism, we must use the tools at our disposal: organizing, protesting and voting.

3. Reject the counterfeit.

Black millennials can smell a fake 3,000 miles away. So when we get canned messages on why our generation needs to “stop being so apathetic and vote” from organizations who parachute into our communities—ones who had no interest in us before the election cycle—we give them the side eye.


We trust the authentic voices of those we organize with, who conspire and struggle with us on critical issues. If you want to engage us, don’t insult our intelligence and our commitment to fighting for real change. Don’t just build with us before and during the election cycle; build with us during the other 364 days of the year, too.

I love being a black millennial. We are beautiful and courageous. I admire our strength and our courage. Despite the fact that state legislatures have tried to make it harder for us to vote by eliminating preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, axing student IDs as acceptable forms of ID at the polls, even moving polling locations off college campuses, we refuse to be silenced.


We continue to be engaged in our communities as leaders and champions and, yes, as voters this election cycle. If organizations want to engage us as voters and leaders, just speak the truth.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.


Maya Drummond is a communications associate at Advancement Project, a multiracial civil rights organization, and an anchor partner of #WeBuiltThis.

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