After all the criticism around "not having a plan" or specific demands, black millennial activists landed on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to further the work laid out clearly in the Vision for Black Lives, a detailed plan of action created in collaboration with multiple social-justice organizations and community advocacy groups.
The young freedom fighters and policy influencers—primarily from the Black Youth Project 100 and the National Black Justice Coalition—presented their targeted goals, "asks," demands and plans of action. Despite mainstream media being late to the table, the work is not new; it is continuing, and the results of the organizations' labor has already been seen in cities across the United States.
Wearing red-black-and-green shirts reading, "Fund Black Futures," the first Build Black Futures Advocacy Day left its mark on the nation.
BYP100 and the NBJC advocated for justice-policy and budget discussions that would change life outcomes for African Americans. Issues around mass incarceration, health care and police funding were featured by the advocates. They also focused on the importance of voter registration and education. The groups emphasized that public policy is one part of a broader strategy they will be focused on.
BYP100 National Director Charlene Carruthers and National Public Policy Chair Janae Bonsu led the group of about 30 young activists on Capitol Hill. They were also joined by members of the National Black Justice Coalition.
"Over the past year, this movement has been working to translate our lived experience and collective needs into concrete policy proposals," Bonsu said of BYP100's advocacy efforts. The advocacy activity on Capitol Hill has been in the planning for over a year.
"Today has been an amazing day. We came here because we know there is no permanent lobby for black people in America," Carruthers said.
"We understand that citizenship for black people in America has always been tenuous and unguaranteed for our folks. We have a strategy that includes protesting and direct action and massive civil disobedience. We believe we can determine what the public policy process looks like," she added at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
BYP100's members came to Washington, D.C., from Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, Chicago and Durham, N.C.
"What we believe in fundamentally is that our government has misplaced priorities. That our government is investing in policing and prisons and punitive measures and filling the pockets of corporations while our communities continue to be divested from and poorly invested in," Carruthers also said.
A cornerstone principle of the group is to defund police departments and redirect that funding to communities.
"We are very clear that police departments and law-enforcement agencies on every level must be defunded and those dollars go to mental-health services for our communities and quality education," Carruthers said.
The activists met with the staffs of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). They also met with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) for over an hour in a session broadcast on Facebook Live, as well as with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The U.S. is the world's biggest jailer, with 2.3 million people behind bars. Even though the U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. has almost 25 percent of all the world's prisoners. There's a possibility that the House may take up a justice-reform bill that includes a new mandatory penalty for cocaine laced with fentanyl and more funding for police. BYP100's advocates made it clear that they were against the legislation.
A recent study by the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis revealed that the cost of incarceration in the U.S. is more than $1 trillion.
Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter.