How Selma Taught Us About the Power of Black Youth and Social Change


Before I could tap him on the shoulder, Enlil McRae (Summer Lab 2013) laughed and rolled his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, we know.” He knew that him and the nine other students who came out to see Selma were going to get wrangled into a post-film discussion, in true Reel Impact fashion.

Ten minutes later, we all gathered together in the lobby of Court Street Regal Cinema. I asked students, “So what’d ya’ll think?”

“I really enjoyed seeing it but it was a little touchy to see”, Daquan Herring (Spring Lab ‘12) answered. “Like, I was jumping in my seat for some of the scenes, especially the scenes when the cops attacked people as they marched and when the clergyman was killed by racists.” Casually standing by the popcorn butter dispensers, Daquan cleared his throat and continued. He spoke about how the film reminded him of Millions March NYC, a protest against police brutality that he had attended just a few weeks ago. “It’s crazy how we’re still fighting the same issues that MLK fought.”

Dimitri Tucker (Spring Lab ‘13) chipped in, “Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in my community who’s trying to make a difference. I look around and I’m like, what are ya’ll doing? Why does it seem like so many young people in my community don’t care about what’s going on?” Dimitri’s comments sparked a conversation within the group. Daquan responded, “Can I just interrupt for a sec? I see what you’re saying, Dimitri, but I have to disagree. I see a lot of youth making a difference. I mean, we don’t have to let others’ decisions bring us down. Not everyone is going to do the right thing, but it only takes a few people for change to happen. A few people can encourage many others to follow their lead.” Faith Robinson (Fall Lab 2011) agreed, “In the movie, there were tons of people who attacked the protesters, but the movement in Selma continued. The same idea is relevant to us today with movements like Black Lives Matter.”

Selma revisits the idea of tenacity and resilience, specifically in Black Americans, who have endured oppression and animosity in America since arriving to the country in chains. Tenacity means we thrive because the legacies of our ancestors encourage us to do so. Resilience means we heal from trauma because our spirits cannot be broken. With tenacity and resilience, each of us are charged with the task of finding our paths: are you actively engaging in your skills and interests? If not, how can you begin doing so?

We can all contribute to social change in our own unique ways, as filmmakers, artists, actors, educators, community organizers, writers, and even as youth. Daquan said it best: “Change can be slow. The world might not suddenly change for you and me, but we can still improve things for the generations to come.” Young people can always be agents for change. What’s more, they always have been.

-Angel Evans

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