The Activist interviews BYP100

A previous shortened version of this interview was featured in the Winter 2021 issue of The Activist. This is the full version.

Black Lives Matter is the largest protest movement in American history. Indeed, the fight for racial justice has united countless groups and mobilized them behind a single noble cause. One of such groups is the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100).

BYP100 was founded in 2013 following the murder of Trayvon Martin. They are a member-based collective of young black activists fighting for freedom and liberation. Starting in Chicago, BYP100 has since expanded considerably with chapters from California’s Bay Area to Washington DC.

Elias Khoury and Taylor-Raye Council spoke with BYP100’s national Comms Associate Kwynn Riley. 

EK | Give us a brief summary of BYP100. Who are you (as an organization), what do you do, and why do you do it?

KR | BYP100 is a member-based organization of young black activists ages 18 to 35. We are a nationwide organization. We currently have 10 chapters and a large digital following. We are also in the process of building up a new chapter in South Florida. 

Our mission is freedom for black people — all black people. We understand the world through a black-queer-feminist lens. This means that we focus on black trans and gender nonconforming folks. Because, when they are free, we all will be.

EK | And, as Comms Associate, what do you specifically do for BYP100?

KR | There is a team of about five of us. My main priorities are handling media and press requests, as well as internal communications. So I am the one who sends out newsletters and things like that. I also frequently reach out to local comms chairs to offer help and guidance.

EK | At a national level, Y/DSA endorses a social democratic policy set that includes things like the Green New Deal, tuition-free public college, and universal healthcare. What policies or ideological currents run through the whole of BYP100, and to what extent do you consider your organization “big-tent”?

KR | Right now, we have a few campaigns that we are prioritizing. We readily embrace any policies compatible with the aforementioned black-queer-feminist lens. For example, we are working alongside The People’s Coalition to fight back against the harmful effects of the 1994 crime bill. 

We also are a part of the Movement 4 Black Lives, which created the BREATHE Act: a comprehensive document that mainly focuses on federal divestment from policing, and allocating those resources toward education and mental health services for black and brown folks.

And then, of course, we have our “She Safe, We Safe” campaign that helps with combating gender-based violence. We started the campaign in recognition of the fact that black trans and gender nonconforming folks really need our support, and in hopes of redefining what safety looks like within that community.

EK | How is BYP100 set up from an organizational perspective? Is decision-making typically done on a democratic basis? What does that look like?

KR | So, we are a 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4. We are a member-based organization. So we do have a lot of all-membership meetings where members can give their input and recommendations. This is how we stay responsive to membership.

A majority of national staff — myself included — are members of BYP100. I’m from the Chicago chapter; our national director is from Durham. That speaks for itself. We have organizers getting paid to organize.

Decision-making in BYP100 is community-based. Of course, with all big organizations, you are going to have some hierarchy. But, at the same time, everyone who wants a say will have one.

EK | How has membership grown over the years? How big are you now? Have any particular current events coincided with many new members joining?

KR | BYP100 was founded in 2013. Unfortunately, we were bigger back then in terms of active membership. And we define “active membership” as folks who have paid their dues.

Many new national members have joined in response to COVID-19 and the uprising for racial justice. “National members” are those who do not reside in an area where BYP100 has a chapter. In places where we do have chapters — especially in big cities like Chicago — membership is up as well. And that has been reflected in the tremendous growth of our digital following.

EK | During the Democratic primary, members of BYP100 and the Sunrise Movement joined forces to protest a Joe Biden rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Is this sort of collaboration common? If so, who else have you worked with in the past and on what issues?

KR | This sort of collaboration is very common. I mentioned previously the Movement 4 Black Lives and The People’s Coalition. You brought up Sunrise. We also work with Black Lives Matter, and other similar grassroots organizations.

We love joining in these coalitions because we know that, when we collaborate, we actually get more work done. Groups often reach out to BYP100 asking us to participate in their actions. And we are happy to give them more bodies to put on the frontlines.

EK | How do you foresee your activism changing under a Biden administration compared to the last four years under Trump, if at all?

KR | I see our activism become stronger. Because of the pandemic, we have a lot more folks charged-up and wanting to make a change. As you know, with organizing, we do get burnt-out; we do get discouraged; and we do get tired. So it is nice that we can give members a chance to rest and pass the torch to younger, newer members who are more energized to hold Biden accountable and challenge Kamala on issues of policing. We have a lot of people eager to help set black people free.

TRC | Being that racial injustice and economic injustice go hand-in-hand, what is BYP100 doing to help more people understand that capitalism has a negative effect on the black community?

KR | That is a really good question. I specifically think of the Chicago chapter. Whenever we have events, we make sure that everything is free. BYP100 tries to decommodify our organization as much as possible. For example, we give groceries away. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have also been giving away hygiene products, condoms, and other things that society chooses to hold on to — almost as a bargaining tool. 

We also fight hard against prison labor. In general, BYP100 just tries to be sensitive to members’ socioeconomic status. We do what we can to provide members as much as possible free of charge.

TRC | Under your “She Safe, We Safe” campaign, you mention “Reallocating funding from the police to community-determined programs that address gender-based violence in Black communities.” What particular services do you have in mind, and why do you think the police are insufficient to reduce gender-based violence?

KR | We are referring to schools, which help break cycles of violence because education dissipates fear. We also want to divert police funds toward transformative justice initiatives, and make sure schoolchildren are learning about transformative justice. Counseling services are too often underfunded, so we want to make sure money goes to that as well. Police funds could also be put toward making necessities like housing and healthcare more affordable.

We know that police are insufficient to solve the problem of gender-based violence. Just look at Chicago. With how policed it is, and how big the police budget is, you would think that we are the safest city in the world. But we are not.

TRC | The #SayHerName movement has typically been about black women and girls. But not for BYP100. You have taken special care to also raise awareness about the harm faced by femmes and the gender nonconforming. Why is this sort of inclusivity so important?

KR | It is important because these are the people who have been kept out. They have been marginalized and oppressed. We are in the year 2020, and it is still happening.

Freedom starts from ground-up — not from the top-down. And we know that when black trans, femmes, and gender nonconforming people are free, all of us are truly free. It is inclusivity, but it is also fighting against discrimination which should have been dealt with a long time ago. BYP100 wants to highlight and illuminate the struggles of heteronormativity’s biggest victims. We have to admit the harm that has been done.

TRC | In a video on your website, BYP100 refers to itself as the “black-queer-feminist organization of this time.” How fond are you of the term “intersectionality,” and in what ways does it inform your activism?

KR | The black-queer-feminist lens and praxis inspires everything that we do. It is something of a mandate on our activism. BYP100 is fond of the term “intersectionality” because we recognize the different layers of oppression. We also recognize that now, more than ever, is the time to uplift the voices of diverse and disparate communities.

As far as integrating intersectionality into our activism, BYP100 tries to stay up-to-date with legislation and policies that affect marginalized peoples. We also make sure that we have black trans and gender nonconforming folks in our leadership. BYP100 also tries to partner with different black trans-led organizations. The Transgender Day of Rememberance is coming up, and we are working with them to plan how we will honor the victims of transphobia.

BYP100 does not use intersectionality to belabor our differences. Rather, we use it to show the overwhelming power that we have when we truly come together. All marginalized people, fighting as one, are unstoppable. We built all of this, and we can tear it down too.

This is a shortened version of the full interview, which will be published in the print issue of The Activist, due in February.

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