Grassroots activism in the 21st century

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. Since his death a growing number of young black activists have emerged in social media demanding justice in the deaths of dozens of unarmed black males and females at the hands of police throughout the United States. CNN has a very good article about 11 of these activists as they talk about how the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown motivated them to become more involved in social justice.


A shift has occurred in the year since Michael Brown’s death sparked unrest in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014.

National conversations have arisen around issues affecting the black community in America: police brutality, economic injustice, racial inequality.

Names that might have made little more than local headlines have become national stories: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland.

It didn’t happen on its own. A grass-roots network of activists and allies is mobilizing through social media to shine a national spotlight on the struggles that come with being black in America.

Their rallying cry: Black lives matter. Their slogan: A movement, not a moment.

“They put things on the agenda that people were not talking about before,” says author and UConn history professor Jelani Cobb.

Some critics are skeptical of their means and motives, saying it’s not clear who’s in charge and what they want. But the movement seeks to be intentionally broad to allow everyone to meet specific needs in their communities.

These activists reside outside traditional institutions and power structures. Many are social media influencers, better known by their Twitter handles than their real names, who can start a trending hashtag or a rally in the streets with a single tweet.

They have gotten the attention of many 2016 presidential candidates, though whether any of those candidates can secure the black activist vote remains to be seen. Observers say their next move is to create meaningful change in communities where they live.

Here are the stories of 13 of these “disruptors” who are rallying together and agitating for change.

Check out interviews at

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