Agaton Ström Photography

By Stephanie Younger • 

The murder of Trayvon Martin ‘ignited a fire’ within the heart of a then 12-year-old Nupol Kiazolu she says she has never felt before. “I couldn’t fully articulate how I felt at the time, but I knew I was angry,” she wrote in an Instagram post in February. “A few days after your murder, I came to school with my gray hoodie on, Skittles, iced tea, and this message taped to my back: “Do I look suspicious?”” In 2012, Trayvon Martin was murdered by the police shortly after he went to the store to buy these items.

“I faced SO MUCH OPPOSITION FROM THE STAFF! I was about to get suspended, but I was determined to raise awareness about his death and get this message across,” Kiazolu wrote. When she refused to take her hoodie off, she was sent to the principal’s office, “on the verge of school suspension.” The only support she received was by her math teacher, who put her career on the line by standing with Kiazolu.

“My math teacher was so angry that she came right along with me with her hoodie ON (risking her job). I stood my ground and knew in my heart that I could do this. Instead of suspending me, my principal told me to go home, do my research and have my “case” ready for him the following day. Instead of suspending me, my principal told me to go home, do my research and have my “case” ready for him the following day. I did hours of research and printed out numerous [papers] stating my rights as a student. The next [day], my math teacher and I went back once again. I won and he let me keep my hoodie on (he taught me such a valuable lesson and I appreciate him so much).

– Nupol Kiazolu (@nupol_justice)

This was her first form of activism. The moment Kiazolu realized that she wanted to dedicate herself to civil rights activism, was when nearly every Black student at her school’s cafeteria was wearing a grey hoodie with a message taped to their backs: “Do I look suspicious?”

Embed from Getty Images

Now at 18, Kiazolu is the president of the Black Lives Matter Greater New York Youth Coalition. Just this year, she has been recognized by Women in the World, DoSomething.Org, along with Naomi Wadler, 11, who spoke at the national March For Our Lives rally about how Black girls are affected by gun violence at disproportionate rates. “It’s very humbling [to know that she looks up to me]. I have so much love for her. She’s literally a reflection of me when I was younger; Super bold and fearless. I look forward to growing with her and helping her through this journey,” Nupol tells Black Feminist Collective.

Kiazolu is a womanist, a term coined by Alice Walker. “White feminists have always been at the forefront of feminism while using Black and women of color as stepping stones and props. Black women created this movement as a safe space for Black women and women of color, and to advance us in society as well.”

The empowerment of Black youth is the core of Kiazolu’s activism, as she takes her role as a leader in the movement very seriously. She says that every young Black person in the field of social justice inspires her everyday.

“Our voices are often overlooked, although we’re always on the ground putting our bodies on the line. Young Black people have carried the movement. Without us, there’d be no movement. You’re never too young to stand up for what’s right! Don’t ever let the phrase “you’re too young” hold you back from anything you set your mind to.”

– Nupol Kiazolu

Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.