These Teens And 20-Somethings Are Organizing The Civil Rights Movement That Will Change Our Country

'In this movement, we are all leaders,' one young activist tells MTV News.

When people watch the protests, marches, rallies, and events around the Michael Brown and Eric Garner verdicts, they're often eyeing the crowd to find the leader. They want to know who coined the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, or managed to fill out all the permits needed to close down bridges and retain a peaceful assembly.

They may picture Dr. Martin Luther King, or a photo or video of him from a high school history class, leading the charge and inspiring the African-American community to take action and demand change.

But this is 2014 -- not 1965. Protests and events are organized online. Hashtags are created and utilized by anyone with a Twitter account. Consensus has replaced the single-leader mentality. Now, more than ever, organizers are working together, unifying their skill-sets and experiences to make the biggest impact possible.

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And here is something really cool -- in terms of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Millions March in Washington, D.C. and New York City, the organizers, by and far, are all young people. Like, really young people.

Related: How To Respond To The Ferguson Verdict Without Losing Hope Or Getting Arrested

We wanted to know what inspired these teens and twenty-somethings to organize and take action. Here are their stories, motivations, goals, and opinions --- in their own words.

National Action Network

Emerald Snipes-Garner, 22, The National Action Network, New York City, NY

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Snipes-Garner: While I was emotional about attending the Staten Island march for my father (Eric Garner) in August 2014, I realized that as a young person I needed to make my voice heard, and that it would set the tone for what my dad stood for. At the August march, I was able to connect with Ashley Sharpton who heads the Youth Huddle at National Action Network and I felt that it was my duty to be a part of a young activist group where my voice could be heard amongst my peers.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Snipes-Garner: I believe that any peaceful protest is effective because it is not about black or white, it's about right and wrong. It was very overwhelming to see all races come together for a great cause, and the effectiveness will be measured through consistency.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Snipes-Garner: I believe that Spike Lee has become a frontline leader throughout this tragedy. He wrote and directed a movie called "Do the Right Thing" in 1989 (this was my dad, Eric Garner's, favorite movie) one of the characters, Radio Raheem, was choked in the same manner by the police as my dad. It's like [Lee] predicted this movement back in the '80s.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Snipes-Garner: I hope that the protesting continues to encourage young people that their voices matter and I also hope that it creates global change, not only in this situation but through government policies, so that no other family has to experience what my family has had to endure.

MTV: Are you organizing future events?

Snipes-Garner: Absolutely! I have become a permanent voice for the youth huddle here at National Action Network and I encourage everyone to visit our website at NationalActionNetwork.net. We meet every Monday night from 7 to 9pm in NYC, and we have similar meetings led by young people around the country. Join us and let your voices be heard and please remember to always turn your anger into action.

Related: Eric Garner’s Sons Encourage Protestors To ‘Stay Strong And Stay Focused’ During D.C. March

Millions March

Synead Nichols, 23, Millions March, New York City, NY

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Nichols: My inspiration, for the lack of a better phrase, stems from my outrage at the lack of accountability on the part of the police departments and policymakers around this country. The systemic racial destabilization of the black body is 100% real and tangible. That effects me on an everyday basis. Why must I walk around in fear for my life? Why can't I turn to the police to protect me instead of worrying if they'll be the ones who hurt me instead? I'm very troubled by these thoughts, so I want to try my best to change those thoughts.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Nichols: The protests are effective as they're highlighting those who have maintained their peace through this entire movement as well as those who are taking direct actions and utilizing their First Amendment right to further express themselves. We want to be heard and these protests will only continue until justice is served.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Nichols: I don't think this is a "leadership" sort of situation. Everyone works collaboratively together, which allows for the group to excel.

National Action Network

Mary-Pat Hector, 17, The National Action Network, Atlanta, GA

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Hector: I was inspired on several levels to organize direct actions in my city and around the country. As a young leader, and The National Youth Director for Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, it is my moral responsibility to inspire other youth to stand up and fight against atrocities in our communities.

The second reason is a very selfish reason: my 8-year-old brother. I take one look at his huge smile and bright eyes, and I think that other people will look at him as dangerous and threatening. I watch him playing and speaking to everyone he sees and I wonder when my parents will have to tell him not only to be aware of strangers but of the police.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Hector: I think people have not wanted to face the simple truth racism is alive and thriving in America. The protests have made it impossible to ignore. We will not know fully how effective this movement is until next August. Then we can take a look at the laws that been written and if new policies that have been put in place to protect citizens.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Hector: Yes, I would say not one person but many young people that believe our time has come to work together like never before. I believe this is a very exciting time where young people are being invited to the table. We are now being seen as assets not liabilities on a larger level.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Hector: We hope there will be hearings on police misconduct and brutality that will lead to legislation. We want to tell Congress to enact legislation that addresses the jurisdictional threshold regarding when the Department of Justice can investigate and/or prosecute cases of police misconduct.

We hope all Americans can be seen as people.

We hope racial profiling will stop, and young people will be seen as a value to our communities

MTV: Are you organizing future events?

Hector: Yes, we have what is called a rapid-response team and there is an action every two weeks. We also support other young people and their direct actions or marches in the streets, which are vital to creating change in this country. As painful as it is to say, in today's democracy, elections alone don't make much of a difference in addressing police brutality, economic deprivation, or environmental degradation. We will not let our movement die -- it is evolving into sustainable actions.

Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.

Sabaah Jordan, 23, Millions March, New York City, NY

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Jordan: I was inspired by the young leaders in Ferguson who came out on August 9 after Mike Brown's death to say "enough is enough." I went to Ferguson to work on a documentary, which would tell the real story on the ground. I learned so much in those three months that when I came back to New York I was ready to step up and take action in my city.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Jordan: Yes. Every day for over 120 days people have taken to the streets to demand justice. Following the non-indictment decision in the Mike Brown case, there were protests in 170 cities across the United States. This is an uprising of Americans from many different nationalities who are saying "no more" to the unpunished killings of black men, women, and children by police. The protests will not stop until the injustice stops.

MTV: Beyond attending protests, what can young people do to get involved in the movement?

Jordan: Creating art is an important way to change culture because art has the power to set new cultural norms. Visual, written, and musical projects that inform people and move them to take action are an important part of the movement.

It is also important to have difficult conversations. The topic of racism is unpleasant, but the feelings of discomfort are growing pains. If we push past them, we can truly become a better society and a better human race.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Jordan: This movement is different from previous movements because there is no one person we can look to like a Dr. King or a Malcolm X. In this movement we are all leaders. Each one of us can use the teachings of those who came before us to make change in our cities, our towns, our schools and our households.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Jordan: I hope that these protests bring about the end of racial discrimination in America, and the removal of elected officials who stand in the way of a just and equal society. Although we are more similar than we are different, black and white Americans are living in two different worlds. There are different sets of rules and different sets of consequences for some, based on their skin color. All too often these differences prove fatal to black people and that is unacceptable.

MTV: Are you organizing future events?

Jordan: Yes. I will keep working until justice is served. Until there is an end to the daily ugliness in our communities that Dr. King described in his speech "The Other America," myself and other organizers will continue to fight for our demands. Until representatives indebted with the public trust cease to uphold unjust laws, we will keep working.

Millions March

Dante Barry, 26, Million Hoodies Movement For Justice, Brooklyn, NY

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Barry: I'm Black -- by nature, being Black is political. I have no choice but to be politicized due to my identity. In my lifetime, I want to the see the liberation of all Black people.

MTV: Beyond attending protests, what can young people do to get involved in the movement?

Barry: Political education -- this moment is an opportunity for those who have become radicalized by injustice to gain deeper insight into the issues. Also, it is crucial for young folks to start looking at who controls the power and resources to make decisions around policing in their communities.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Barry: The people -- this is a people-powered movement with no single leader.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Barry: Ultimately, the protests and acts of civil disobedience are cultural interventions to the status quo and a society that says that black lives don't matter. In light of the re-energized civil/human rights movement in the US against anti-blackness, I hope that we turn this moment from primarily a social movement to a political movement and demand that we also inspire, invest, and elect political leadership for more inclusive and democratic outcomes in our communities.

Related: Could A Martin Luther King Jr. Exist In 2014?

MTV: Are you organizing future events?

Barry: Million Hoodies is a part of the This Stops Today coalition in New York City and are involved with other demonstrations and rallies.

National Action Network

Leighton Watson, 21, National Action Network, Washington D.C.

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Watson: The inspiration for my involvement in this movement is the realization that I could've been Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin. I wore "urban clothes" before. Why? Because they were in style and who wants to be laughed at as a kid or a teenager? I wore the tall white tees and the fitted hats and baggy jeans and Air Forces.

I also had a 3.9 GPA, had one of the top 500 SAT scores in the nation among African Americans and was accepted into the University of Chicago and Notre Dame, but at the end of the day, I'm a black man. The same description that fits almost every suspect description when you listen to a police scanner. They didn't do a background check on Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin before they killed them. The only background check they needed was of their DNA because if you are black in America, there is an assumption of guilt before innocence.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Watson: I believe that the protests have been effective in garnering the continued attention of the media. If people were not in the streets in Ferguson, New York, DC, etc., I guarantee the media would have moved on from covering this, and the political pressure would've subsided. MLK protested to get to the negotiating table.

I had the opportunity to sit across from President Obama and discuss possible ideas for solutions and now we have been appointed to a Presidential Task Force to address these issues. However, attached to every protest must be a viable list of expectations (not demands) that have been researched and vetted and will make a difference in the lives of everyday citizens of all races who experience police brutality and police criminality.

MTV: Beyond attending protests, what can young people do to get involved in the movement?

Watson: Young people of all races can get educated -- I have to continue to do the same thing. If you read about the issues of police brutality in the '60s, mid- to early-20th-century leaders like Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X and MLK all have had to address this issue and very little has changed since then. Unfortunately, a lot of their logic could be useful in addressing this generation's round with police behaving criminally with impunity.

Also, get educated on your local and state politics. For example, in Ferguson only 12% of the population utilized their democratic responsibilities this election. What people need to understand is that they elect a governor who elects the police commissioner. He then has discretion over the composition of his police force -- in Ferguson [the police force is] 94% white in a city that is 67% African American. We all agree that the system is broken, and we must fix the system and use it so the results become equitable.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Watson: The people who need respond to these protests are our legislators, policymakers, police and average citizens. If hundreds of thousands of people can't PEACEFULLY protest and get results, then what are you encouraging those people to do?

Ohio Student Association

Malaya Davis, 24, Ohio Student Association, Cleveland, OH

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?

Davis: I am an organizer with the Ohio Student Association, an organization of young people from all over the state, fighting and organizing to build independent grassroots power for other young Ohioans. We also organize around ending the criminalization of young people, specifically young black people, and cases of police brutality across the state. So we heard about the killing of John Crawford III on August 5 of this year by a Beavercreek police officer, we knew that we had an obligation in fighting for justice for John and his family and making sure that someone would be held accountable for his death.

John, a young Black man, was killed at a Wal-Mart around the corner from the university I attended. Knowing that John was the target and victim of racial profiling, implicit bias and, ultimately, police brutality just for existing made me think about the fact that John could have been me or any of the other young black people from the university or greater Dayton area who shopped at this Wal-Mart.

Also, not only seeing but being in direct communication with folks who were organizing on the ground in Ferguson, New York city, Atlanta, and parts of Florida really inspired and motivated myself and the rest of OSA to continue this fight.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Davis: Absolutely. A couple of weeks ago James Hayes, organizer and Political Director for OSA, along with other young black organizers from across the country met with the President of the United States, Barack Obama. This didn’t happen because young folks are heavily pushing for policy reform, body cameras, and citizen review boards, but because tens of thousands of people of every race, gender, sexuality, and class were out in the streets nationwide.

People, especially young black folks, are tired. Tired of the world not seeing the humanity in us. So we’re going to go out in the streets, shutting it down until everyone knows that Black Lives Matter for real.

MTV: Beyond attending protests, what can young people do to get involved in the movement?

Davis: Social Media! It’s the best way to stay connected to what’s happening on the ground around the world. Hosting “teach-ins” or other political education events. Hosting a strategy meeting with other young people in your area willing to do work. Just to name a few.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Davis: The thing I love best about what’s happening now is that it’s decentralized, which means there is no one individual or group that is or will ever be bigger than the movement itself. There are so many extremely dope young people across the country who are putting in some real work and so I’m so fortunate to be in relationship with them during this time.

Millions March

Umaara Elliott, 19, Millions March, Bronx, New York

MTV: What inspired you to organize around this particular movement?:

Elliott: I've been active and protesting for the past few months and really wanted to help organize something where the people who were hesitant about coming out to protest and be expressive could come out. The media's portrayal of protesters has been inaccurate. I felt that it was important to show the power of the people and how we could all unify to fight against social injustices and demand change.

MTV: Do you think the protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been effective?

Elliott: The protests around the Mike Brown and Eric Garner verdicts have been very effective in the way of people really showing that we won't stop until justice is served. The protesters in Ferguson have really sparked a movement on nonstop resistance and action, and really being strategic on how to unify and demand change.

MTV: Is there any person or people emerging from the protests who you would consider a leader of the movement?

Elliott: The great thing about this movement is that all of our organizations and coalitions are standing together in solidarity with one another. I don't think it's about what one particular person or organization, but more so about really learning from one another and working together. The people in Ferguson, who have been protesting for over 120 days, have sustained themselves and the movement.

MTV: What do you hope comes from the protests?

Elliott: We are out here protesting because we want change. We want justice. We want this country and system to understand that black bodies matter. We want our demands to be met.

Learn more about racial profiling and how you can fight bias by checking out LookDifferent.org