Protests, violence, and looting: these are the common themes in mass media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement. But peaceful, positive, community work is happening beyond these scenes of chaos, particularly in the Midwest. In cities throughout the region, efforts are led by dedicated young activists with their own stories to tell.
Pictured: Sedan Smith and Jonathan Mason
Jonathan Mason is the founder of the 10K Foundation. The idea behind the name came from the thought that if you can mobilize 10,000 hopeful citizens, you can change anything. As a father of four, he has always been one to speak out on behalf of others and himself. The death of three black men—Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and Alton Sterling—were part of the reason he started protesting more than 10 years ago. He was the first person to report the death of George Floyd at a Minneapolis, MN police station.
Courtnei Caldwell, who faced racism when she moved to Iowa, is one of the founders of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement. Her passion for advocacy stems from her grandfather, who was involved in the NAACP in Missouri. Caldwell helped organize the press conference known as Black Emergency in October 2020, in which the Black Liberation Movement publicly announced a state of emergency for Black Iowans, as well as Black people around the country. Her biggest goal is to keep everyone safe and to work toward more equality for Black people.
Pictured: Bear Alexander and Courtnei Caldwell
Sedan and Sara Smith found love in chaos after they met at a protest after the death of George Floyd. As activists for the People’s Revolution, they work to be a voice for the voiceless. Sedan lost his younger brother, Syville, when he was shot by police in 2016, after which protests erupted in the Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee. Sedan became a leader in the People’s Revolution to help keep Syville’s name alive. His work focuses on young people, who he sees as the future of the community.
Alexander “Bear” Matthews is one of the founders of ProBlac, an organization that aims to provide a space for Black and indigineous voices to be amplified. Matthews originally dreamed of being a teacher, until he was arrested for possession and that dream could no longer be reality. Matthews turned to a different platform to educate people – activism – and he hasn’t looked back. He stands by the Eldridge Cleaver quote, “if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.”
All five activists have different approaches to fighting racial injustice, but all are working toward a common goal: change.