BY STEPHANIE YOUNGER •
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,” Kiazolu continues. 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) on Instagram
The moment Kiazolu realized that she was destined to be a civil rights activist was when almost every Black student in the cafeteria 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 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, 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.”
Photo Courtesy of Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images North America
Kiazolu is also a passionate advocate for the womanist movement, which was 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.” In her speech at the 2018 Women in the World Summit, Kiazolu communicated a similar message to white women.
“White women, you need to show up for Black women and women of color, just like we show up for you. This word, “intersectionality,” pops up so many times, but what does that look like after today, after we leave this auditorium? Are you going to show up for Black women and women of color after this? Are you going to uplift and elevate our voices? You have to. That is what intersectionality is – working together, coming together as a collective. The people united will never be divided. So we have to come together and show up for Black lives, and Black women’s lives, because we do matter.”– Nupol Kiazolu’s Call to Action at the 9th Annual Women in the World Summit
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. 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.”
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old student activist and writer who advocates for womanism, diversity in S.T.E.A.M, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention.