The murder of Trayvon Martin ignited a fire within a then 12-year-old Nupol Kiazolu “that she’s never felt before.” “I couldn’t fully articulate how I felt at the time, but I knew I was angry,” she wrote in a post on Instagram. “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”? This was my first form of activism ever,” Trayvon Martin was murdered 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,” Nupol writes. 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 by Nupol. “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. I did hours of research and printed out numerous papers stating my rights as a student. I won and he let me keep my hoodie on. He taught me such a valuable lesson, and I appreciate him so much.”
The moment Nupol realized that she was destined to be a civil rights activist was when almost every Black student was wearing a grey hoodie with the same message taped to their backs. “My teacher and I were so shocked, we started crying tears of joy.”
Now at age 18, and being the president of the Black Lives Matter Greater New York Youth Coalition, she has been recognized by Women in the World, DoSomething.Org, along with Naomi Wadler, who spoke at the national March For Our Lives 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 is also a strong advocate for the womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker ignited by the colonization of feminism. “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.”
As an activist who is devoted to uplifting young people of color, the empowerment of Black youth is extremely important to Nupol. She takes her role as a leader in the movement very seriously. 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.”
Written by Stephanie Younger, a 16-year-old student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for Womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention