Op-Ed: Young people can work to dismantle systemic oppression and create equity

Nazira Cisse
Photo courtesy of Nazira Cisse


Racial equity means removing systemic and racism barriers. It means a better society where everyone is allowed to succeed. This is not a utopia, however, someone should not have to be set back by a society and a system because of their skin color and other features.

My African uncle said “all lives matter.” I explained to him that all lives can’t matter until Black lives matter. We talked and he got it. My African parents were confused as to why I participated in a protest. They called it “nonsense” and that it wasn’t going to solve anything. I told them we young people have the power to lead right now in our communities and that is what I’m doing.

Black kids everywhere are exhausted, including me. We go through school, work and life while feeling everyday there is a new Black person killed because of their skin color and systemic racism. We teach people and refute their ignorance. We take the power back but they only televise the movement when the violence occurs without showing how the violence started. I have had too many conversations where whole group chats are expressing how draining it is just to be a Black kid at this time. We see the hate the world is spewing out towards us and others choose to ignore. I’m tired, but I’m taking action.

I volunteer in my community to dismantle systemic oppression with NYCLU’s Teen Activist Project (TAP) where I’m learning more about civil liberties, community organization, activism and more. I have lobbied, protested and helped host town halls spreading a message about systemic racism within schools and my community. Currently I am working on a TED Talk on environmental injustices within NYC focused on how Black and brown people are suffering disproportionally from coronavirus. You can find it on my Instagram @nazira_cisse.

I advocate for us all to hold our government accountable for causing and allowing systemic oppression to occur. Email, Tweet, and call your local politicians to show that we will not be silent. We understand everything is against us. We need change in government. Our livelihoods have to shift so that people stop dying. I am asking you to join or continue fighting for environmental justice, and to be aware that our underserved are getting hurt the most because of these injustices. There needs to be reform in the government within all these factors to help all New Yorkers. Black and brown people have less access to healthy foods as our neighborhoods are in food deserts. So let’s expand SNAP which gives healthy options to people. Let’s put it into our curriculum the importance of healthy food and how it literally affects our day to day. Let’s put air filters on schools near heavy traffic and pollution. Let’s stop using Harlem to fund luxury malls and invest back into the community. Without change within government we are devaluing our Black and brown people and putting barriers to their success

I work to grow my skills and expand my network. This summer I participated in Bank of America’s Student Leaders program. I was 1 of the 5 New York City students chosen among roughly 200 applicants. I attended webinars on environmental justice and food insecurity. I’ve become familiar with the internal structure of a non-profit, took part in the grant-writing process, and realized how important it is to work as a team. My experience combined with the network of young leaders that I’ve had the opportunity to connect with, and our shared desire to be agents of change gives me hope of the impact we will continue to make on our society and within our communities. I look forward to using the tools I’ve developed and the network I’ve established to found and direct my own nonprofit one day.

I encourage all young people to realize they are able to make an impact. Whether it’s in your household, among your peers, or within your community – you have power and influence, now more than ever it should be put to good use.

Nazira Cisse is a Bronx resident and Bank of America Student Leader.

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