Days after Donald Trump was elected president, 19-year-old Bree Chambers remembers sitting at Firestone High School, watching her friends openly cry. Meanwhile, a student skipped around their vicinity, mocking them and passing out “Kit Kats for Democrats.”
She says this anecdote is the only way she can describe where she was emotionally days after Trump’s election, and how the four years since have felt.
18-year-old Kody Cross says the first time he saw someone who looked like him in a leadership position was November 2008, when former President Barack Obama was elected. Today, Kody says people tell him he talks too much and is too loud, but he disagrees: He’s only using his voice for advocacy and change.
16-year-old Mikaia Al Barr recalls her first protest: She was nine and sitting atop a giant ash tree, fighting against its removal in Highland Square. Though the tree was eventually torn down, this experience taught her the importance of speaking out.
Weeks ago, after the murder of George Floyd, 18-year-old Ryanne Helms says she felt “tired of this being a recurring thing.”
The four young leaders, fired up and ready to fight for equality, have formed the Akron Minority Council, “a group of like-minded Americans, affected and dissatisfied with the treatment of minority peoples, committed to ensuring peace, fighting for justice, and pushing for continued progress, through building connections with community, in order to secure a better future for us all.”
Bree, Kody, Mikaia and Ryanne have grown up in a world in which violence against Black people is regularly televised, Trump’s presidency looms, and tragedy and heartbreak — school shootings, for example — have been continually normalized.
This is why they’re speaking out.
“We want change to happen,” says Ryanne, who serves as vice president. “Not to keep saying we’re going to wait for change, and for these movements to be temporary, [but] to continually fight for equality, and to change the system so these things don’t happen again.”
The group, who’ve mostly known each other for years because they’re all current or past Firestone High School students recently assembled after Kody created a group chat following Floyd’s death.
“We were so outraged and so hurt about George Floyd’s murder,” he says.
Advocacy work isn’t new to Kody, Bree or Ryanne, who led the Student Coalition Against Violence Walkout in 2018 after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 teenagers were murdered. Mikaia, the youngest in the group, currently serves as President of Firestone High School’s Black Student Union.
Bree, who serves as President of Akron Minority Council, says she grew up watching “super strong, super empowered Black women.” At seven, she owned a VHS copy of Oprah’s Legend Ball and frequently watched it on repeat, to the amusement of her parents.
“I think to a certain degree, when you are part of a marginalized community, you’re born an activist,” Bree says. “You’re the first person you have to fight for. And you’re always fighting and educating people and expressing certain realities. And sometimes dealing with really complicated emotions based on your identity.”
Currently, the four leaders are organizing events in Akron. Their first one took place on Juneteenth, where they registered people to vote and passed out books to children. On June 25 at Hardesty Park, Akron Minority Council will be protesting and hosting speeches from local leaders.
Moving forward, the Akron Minority Council plans to continue events that focus on arts, education and advocacy for young people in Akron. Mikaia, who loves theater and art, wants to see the Akron community continue to extend opportunities to artists outside of Highland Square and Downtown.
“We all grew up here and we live here,” says Mikaia. “We know what it’s like to go to school and be a young person in Akron.”
When asked what kind of future they want, Kody laughs, and says, “The answer is Bree. What we need is Bree to turn 35 and announce her candidacy.”
Join Akron Minority Council’s Facebook Group here.