September has been a turbulent month in America: high-profile police killings of two Black men and a 13-year-old boy; days of protests in Charlotte and demonstrations nationwide; and racially charged rhetoric as the nation prepares for November's presidential election.
Amid all that is happening, a collective of young African-American activists, advocates, and artists from across the country have launched a series of multi-city workshops aimed at empowering individuals and communities with civic engagement tools, tactics and strategies.
"Black & Engaged" (aka #BE16)—a project of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (founded in 1963 by President JFK), and an extension of the movement for Black Lives—kicked off a two-day workshop this weekend in Philadelphia. In the coming weeks, stops will include Atlanta (Sept. 30-Oct. 2), Los Angeles (Oct. 7-9) and St. Louis (Oct. 14-16).
The goal, according to organizers, is to provide community leaders and everyday stakeholders with sophisticated expertise in organizing, political and digital communications, research and data, as well as the arts and healing, as forms of activism.
"We wanted to create a grassroots space for meaningful dialogue, which can lead to policy reform and change," says Ifeoma Ike, 35, an attorney and co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote, a nonpartisan organization that is among the think tanks and community groups behind the workshop series.
"What we envision occurring over these weekend convenings are hyperlocal, regional and national game plans that center around the improvement of Black people and the systems that should be serving them," adds Tristan Wilkerson, co-creator of Black and Brown People Vote.
This weekend will incorporate a Ted Talks-style stage; guests will include Jahvaris Fulton, brother of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was slain in 2012 by a Sanford, Florida neighborhood watch volunteer.
"I am personally honored to be speaking before so many activists that marched for my brother, Trayvon, and continue to march for those taken way too soon," said Fulton, co-founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation. "This weekend is about coming and working together to create plans to engage our local and state officials around policies that protect our family members instead of targeting them."
More than a year in the making, the effort was inspired by the 2014 police shooting death in St. Louis, Missouri of unarmed teenager Mike Brown, Jr.
Last December, several advocates from across the nation—most under age 40—assembled at the Rockefeller Estate in upstate New York to discuss the nation's power dynamics and ways to increase representations of African-Americans in elected office and other positions of influence.
While the forthcoming presidential election is largely dominating national discourse, local politics is a focus of #BE16. By visiting four major regions across the U.S., its backers hope to encourage Black people to vote en masse, but press aggressively beyond the ballot box once the 2016 election ends.
The tour seems especially timely in light of recent police shooting deaths: Tyre King, 13, in Columbus, Ohio; Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Recently, a Maryland prosecutor announced no charges would be filed against officers involved in a deadly standoff with Korryn Gaines in front of her five-year-old son. The Washington Post has reported more than 700 people have been shot by police so far this year; more than 164 are Black men.
"Ferguson is everywhere," says Nakisha M. Lewis, an activist and organizer of Black Lives Matter NYC. "Many of our cities share the same structural and institutional DNA that historically has contributed to many communities of color, including Black communities, being disconnected from material decision making processes.
Black and Engaged, she said, will provide opportunities for "everyday people to build practical civic engagement roadmaps to undo these persistent barriers to access, power, and liberation."