Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


How can we fight for racial justice? Lessons from Young Black Changemakers

Laura S. Abrams, Elan C. Hope, Laura Wray-Lake

The events of 2020 are unforgettable. What do you most remember when you look back on this time? Surely, the COVID-19 pandemic comes to mind. Also, the presidential election. We can’t forget May 25th, 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by police in the streets of Minnesota, and the racial awakening and reckoning that followed. There were protests – the largest in U.S. history. Books about racial justice were flying off the shelves. Corporations launched anti-racism campaigns; and schools and communities across the nation made commitments to anti-racist policies, education, and new practices. Some lasting changes were made. Some of the fervor felt temporary. There was also- not surprisingly- a strong backlash against racial justice progress.

Our book brings a timely look at the lives of young Black changemakers at a moment when we need to reflect on how to more deeply invest in efforts to advance racial justice – lest all the lessons of 2020 be forgotten. Drawing from interviews conducted in 2020 with 43 highly civically engaged Black teens in Los Angeles, we chronicle how these Black youth experienced the racial reckoning and racial justice movement in the summer of 2020. These Black young changemaker’s experiences of racism and pursuit of a better world for Black people began long before 2020. Their stories bring to life the many ways that Black young people are changemakers well before and during 2020, and the ways their changemaking will endure into the future, as they reflect on continuing the historical and family legacies of fighting for racial justice. Throughout the book, we are also proud to feature the artwork of two young Black artists in Los Angeles who use art to share their reflections on Black life and changemaking.

Credits: Untitled, by Meazi Light-Orr
Credit: Untitled, by Meazi Light-Orr
Description: A young Black artist in Los Angeles depicts a young Black changemaker

Changemaking doesn’t occur in a vacuum and Black youth do not become changemakers overnight. This book documents the opportunities that launch Black youth into changemaking and the experiences that sustain their racial justice efforts over time. These young people share the sparks of inspiration that influence their changemaking, the supportive (and not so supportive) experiences they have had in schools and organizations as Black teens navigating an anti-Black world, and the community connections and relationships that keep them going.

We started this project as a group of researchers – two white women and one Black woman – with a shared passion for challenging negative assumptions about Black young people and a goal of uplifting their stories of changemaking. We assembled a multi-racial team of eight additional co-authors including junior scholars at the undergraduate, master’s, and PhD level. In writing this book, we learned tremendously from each other and we learned valuable lessons from the young Black changemakers whose stories we tell in the pages that comprise the book.

Young Black Changemaking and the Road to Racial Justice shares these lessons, most often by quoting young people directly. We learn that young Black changemakers are committed to the long road ahead. They get tired of fighting at times, and at other times feel inspiration and joy in this work. There are many ways we can support Black youth and invest in them in order to share the burdens of racism and support their changemaking. These young people’s stories offer inspiration and challenge us to follow their lead in fighting for racial justice.

Young Black Changemakers and the Road to Racial Justice

Title: Young Black Changemakers and the Road to Racial Justice

Editors: Laura Wray-Lake, Elan C. Hope and Laura S. Abrams

ISBN: 9781009244213

About The Authors

Laura S. Abrams

Laura S. Abrams is Professor of Social Welfare at UCLA, USA. She is a youth justice expert and an award-winning author of five books and over 100 articles. She is a member of the A...

View profile >

Elan C. Hope

Elan C. Hope is Director of Research and Evaluation and Policy Research Associate, USA. She is an expert in youth development, racial justice, and well-being. She is an award-winni...

View profile >

Laura Wray-Lake

Dr. Laura Wray-Lake is Professor of Social Welfare at UCLA, USA. She has conducted research for over a decade on youth civic engagement. As an author and lifelong learner, she has ...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!