Alumnus Shawn Young ’19 was invited to participate in BPI’s Community Engagement in Public Health & Education Internship stipend program on March 13, 2020 – the day that COVID shut everything down. His original proposal to run a reentry support group through Citizen Action was upended but he didn’t let the pandemic stop him. Shawn successfully organized dozens of rallies in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, organized the “Capital Region Freedom Tour” of the capital district’s jails, and in the midst of this all, he started his own organization: All Of Us Community Action Group. In the post below, Shawn describes his efforts over these last few months and the launch of his new organization.
We are in historic times. Even so, what is happening in 2020 started before now, as did my journey toward this moment. Here in New York State, across the nation, and across the globe, people are living through the greatest of hardships and pain. Also during this time, people are demanding change, demanding justice. One might think that COVID-19 would make it near impossible to organize people and advocate for the very change that is needed. While challenging, it has not been impossible. Instead, during these times we have seen the greatest unity across intentional divisions. We have also maintained a constant presence and demand for justice, especially here in the Greater Capital Region of NY.
In 2019, I came home to the Capital District committed to being a positive force in my community. Within a blink of an eye, I was speaking publicly to a room full of people at the NYS Capitol about my experiences, calling for justice. Then I was interviewing to be an organizer for a statewide organization and was ultimately hired to begin in January 2020. Like many others, I did not see what would come in 2020— the challenges and changes, the pain of increased televised police brutality, and a global pandemic that would highlight the systems of oppression and harm that so many among us have been speaking about for lifetimes. I needed to find a way to be an advocate, an activist, and an organizer during crisis and pandemic, during extreme tragedy and pain. I was able to do that effectively by transitioning from the position I was hired for into being the co-founder of my own organization, All Of Us Community Action Group.
It is important to lead with the voices of impacted and marginalized people when fighting to create change. It is hard work to create change even without the addition of a global pandemic. The people negatively impacted by the current systems and structures have the greatest barriers to participation on any given regular day: work, transportation, childcare, etc. In 2020, we’ve had the added obstacle of a global pandemic that requires safe distancing and health precautions. We made it a priority during the pandemic that no barriers would prevent community members from having their voices heard, either online or in-person. We knew that it would require being incredibly organized and coordinating donations from multiple individuals and organizations. We continue to do just that.
The first thing we did before even having any in-person actions, we made sure the community had access to free masks for themselves and their families. We delivered free donated reusable masks and information on safety precautions to individuals and families all over the Capital Region. We also made sure, and continue to make sure, that free reusable masks and hand sanitizer were available at all of our actions, rallies, and marches. Additionally, we identified partners and supporters who were looking to make donations to support the attendees of actions and events. Throughout the Summer, we have always had bottles of water and snacks at all events. One particular donation was that of “protest packs” which were created as individual packets. Each “protest pack” has a bottle of water, chips, granola bar, fruit snacks, an individual packet of Tylenol, and other odds and ends for a day of action. Lastly, we make sure that we are aware of the direct service resources that exist in the Capital District to be able to direct those in need to those services. This also includes our leaders volunteering at local food bank events across the Greater Capital Region and continuing to build our list of community partners, both within movement work and direct service work.
For many places across New York State and the United States as a whole, there was a drop off in the level of activist activity and community engagement several weeks after the murder of George Floyd. That was not the case for our organization and our work here in the Greater Capital Region. Here in Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and Saratoga Springs, we have continued to hold a presence and grow our numbers, even now as the weather begins to turn colder. We have been able to keep a constant presence online and in-person since before the murder of George Floyd.
A combination of factors have allowed us to lift up the voices of Black, Brown, and marginalized people, to create demands that center the voices of the people most impacted by the issues, to ever be present and aware of political shifts and movements, and maintain a constant presence in this moment, pushing for it to be a movement. One of the greatest factors is that within our organization, our leadership team is composed of a diversity of Black people who have personal experiences relating to how they were impacted by the justice system, who have family and friends that were impacted by the justice system, who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community and been impacted by the justice system, and who come from communities across the Greater Capital Region that have been impacted by the justice system. Additionally, we work across all of the barriers that are used to divide us. We work across race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, zip codes, and so much more. We are united.
We are now reaching the end of 2020 and some believe that the election will be a turning point or that the beginning of next year will be a turning point. I remain committed to the work that we are doing and that will need to be done going forward for quite some time to come. We need to continue to build and lift up the voices of the people. We need to continue conversations, workshops, and political education for and by the local communities. We need to continue to demand changes that offer support, equity, and justice for all, not just the select few. 2020 has been a journey that has mirrored my own life experience and the fight to overcome insurmountable odds and obstacles. I know today that we will see the tomorrow that we all deserve when we move forward in the truth that it is not one of us. It is all of us.
Shawn Young ’19 is the Co-founder of All Of Us Community Action Group, a Black-led grassroots organization committed to liberation and the end of all forms of oppression and exploitation. Shawn was born and raised in the Capital Region and has extensive experience as a Black man in today’s society. Currently, Shawn is an integral member of the leadership in the Greater Capital Region demanding that Black Lives Matter and calling for an end to police brutality, state-sanctioned violence, and the never-ending abuse of power in the current systems and structures of our society. As the co-founder of All Of Us, Shawn has led actions, community conversations, and facilitated the leadership development of young leaders in the Capital Region. He received his AA from Bard College with the Bard Prison Initiative in 2019.