Young Black voices standing at the forefront of the movement

In Madison and across the nation, Black youth are making their voices heard.
Noah Anderson standing in front of the Orpheum Theater
Photo by Ian Kpachavi
Noah Anderson

In early June a diverse sea of people circled in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol as mosquitoes started to bite. A cool breeze came over the crowd as the sky faded to dusk. The anger and frustration from the day’s protest trickled into the night and was accompanied by great sadness. Young voices rattled off the names of people killed by the police: “Tony Robinson,” “Breonna Taylor,” “George Floyd.” The crowd followed in unison with “Too Many Names.” Black people from across Madison came to the microphone to share their experiences and their pain.

“What was impactful about that night was the fact that people are hearing their stories and they are speaking from a real place, and people could hear that and feel that,” says Ayomi Obuseh, a 19-year-old University of Wisconsin–Madison student. “That is why it was so beautiful.” This was a common scene during many June evenings downtown, where some daytime protests turned into nighttime vigils. Madison has seen many days of protests following the murder of Floyd and instances of police brutality in Madison.

photos of those killed by police circle around a planter in Madison

A June 3 protest turned into a nighttime vigil that lasted until 3 a.m. at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Candles, flowers and other displays on capitol grounds honored Black people killed by police. (Photo by Nate Moll)

On May 30, Freedom Inc., Urban Triage Inc. and the Party for Socialism and Liberation organized the protest that sparked the movement in Madison with more than 2,000 in attendance around Capitol Square. Young organizers took the lead from these community groups to create their own youth-led movement, where a wide range of voices have been heard. “There is so much power in their words,” says April Kigeya, chief operations officer of Urban Triage. “They don’t have written speeches; they are speaking from the heart and from their experiences.”

For the past several years, Freedom Inc. has galvanized youth, most notably in demanding police-free schools in Madison. According to Bianca Gomez, director of youth organizing at Freedom Inc., the nonprofit’s years of work — spanning from school advocacy to housing assistance to domestic and sexual violence assistance — made supporting youth in this movement a seamless transition. “As an adult ally [I] have a responsibility to not just listen to them, but give them control over their own liberation, because otherwise we’re just being paternalistic,” Gomez says. “They deserve control over their own liberation and they deserve control over their bodies, over their schools and over their communities.”

Person standing in the center of a crowd

Youth took turns at a mic to provide testimonials, deliver spoken word poetry and song while urging peace and unity and law enforcement reform. (Photo by Ilana Bar-av)

As young people chant “Black Lives Matter” at protests, it speaks to the reality they live in, according to the Honorable Rev. Everett Mitchell, a Dane County Circuit Court Judge. Dane County has one of the worst Black-white achievement gaps in the state and country. In Dane County, Black kids are 7.46 times more likely than white kids to get arrested. “This trauma and this pain is real that these young people are embodying, and they want some kind of systemic change so that they don’t have to keep experiencing it the way that they’ve experienced it,” Mitchell says. “So you have Black [people] and white allies who were all just kind of fed up and saying ‘enough is enough.’”

The pursuit of social justice is in the hands of young people around Madison, including the individuals you’ll read more about below. No longer asking, “Where is justice?” they’re demanding it for themselves in their own ways.

people hold up their fists in front of State Capitol

Photo by Nate Moll

Black Youth Rise Up
Through art, demonstrations, fundraising, poetry and otherwise, young Black leaders are emerging in Madison. Meet five people who have made their voices heard.

Nalah McWhorter

Nalah McWhorter (Photo by Rebecca Radix)

GALLERY: Madison Mobilizes
A look at some of the events that happened in the city at the end of May through the end of June.

Crowd holds community control over police sign

Photo by Nate Moll

Photo by Nate Moll

Timeline of Events
George Floyd’s death on May 25 sparked protests in a number of U.S. cities. Find a documented timeline of events in Madison.

police in riot gear

From late afternoon until midnight on May 30, Madison police officers in riot gear clashed with an estimated 150 protesters on State Street. The officers deployed tear gas as rocks, water bottles and restaurant patio chairs were hurled at them. (Photo by Nate Moll)

Photo by Nate Moll