Becoming an activist seems like a daunting task. With so many issues and organizations needing assistance, it may seem overwhelming to get started. The first step is easier than most think. It all starts with the desire to help. We interviewed four members of The University of Alabama community and asked them to give us their tips on how to become an activist.
The first step for all activists is being inspired to help their community. That inspiration can come from many places. For Teryn Shipman, a University of Alabama alumna, her inspiration was what she saw during her time here at the Capstone.
“I never really experienced the whiteness before like it is here at UA,” said Shipman.
Being exposed to things like the confederate flag and controversial names on the school buildings gave her something to fight for. Growing up around mainly African Americans, reading and hearing about how people of color fought for change like that also inspired her to do something like that on campus. She saw that there was a need for change here at the University. From that point on, her time at the University has led her to fight for issues like voter rights and the prison-industrial complex. If the desire to help better the UA campus, community or the world is not a driving factor, you will get easily discouraged.
The desire to make a change is a great start, but how do you turn your passion into action? UA senior Mikayla Wyatt advocates for networking yourself and your plan to other people on campus or in the community.
“Always network and make sure to meet at least two to three people that can advance the plans that you have. There are definitely students out there who have the same mindset as you,” said Wyatt.
Finding people to help you on this journey of activism is just one part of putting your words and passion into action. Another aspect Teryn points out is creating genuine relationships with the connections you have in your community or on campus.
“We can use each other’s experience to build upon our relationships with each other,” said Shipman.
Shipman would also state that having genuine conversations about your experiences creates a support system for you to lean on. She also stated to do your research on the issue you’re passionate about. The willingness to learn more about activism and ways to help your community is vital to your growth as an activist.
When pursuing activism, there will be times where the work being done in the community or on campus seems like it is for naught. How does one deal with that doubt or fear? UA Junior, Sterling Dozier, acknowledges the validity of having that fear when branching out into activism. But he stated that people should learn how to embrace the resistance that comes with speaking out for or against something.
“The resistance you get is definitely a testament to the work you’re doing,” said Dozier.
Shipman echoed that sentiment and said knowing your why [for getting into activism] can help ease that fear as well. While she understands why someone may be nervous, Shipman added that being nervous is ok. Like Dozier, she advises people to embrace their nervousness and fear and turn those emotions into action.
Protecting your mental health is crucial when fighting for change. Dozier and Shipman stated creating a support system and leaning on organizations for positivity helped ease their worries and kept them grounded. How can one create this group of supportive people? For Shipman, she relied on campus resources like the Counseling Center here at the University. There are organizations like My Mind Matters, a group Dozier is a part of, that promotes bettering the mental health of black students here at the University. Protecting the mental health of people is not limited to campus. Community leader JacQuan Winters started the Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation, designed to prevent suicide among youth. It was named after his sister, who tragically committed suicide at the age of 11.
“The objective is to keep Kristen’s memory and legacy alive,” Winters said. “Not only that, but to also make sure no other child or family has to go through what my family had to go through.”
Tapping into resources like these can better your well-being as you continue to advocate for change.
Activism does not look the same for everyone. For some, it’s creating posts and petitions. Others may organize protests or do community work. Some may just educate themselves and have conversations. Whatever your particular area is, Wyatt states that people should be bold when stepping out for change while remembering who and why you are pursuing activism.
“An activist is the person that’s in the community doing great things on the behalf of other people,” Winters said. “It’s someone who advocates for those that don’t have a voice.”
All four activists and community leaders push for knowing your reasons for doing community work. For at the end of the day, the fight for change is about helping the people who have no other outlet.
Sterling Dozier is a junior at the University. He is majoring in Finance and Economics. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Dozier is a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and is the treasure of the University’s chapter of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. He also started the Black Business Student Association, which is a group intended to help the Black students enrolled in the Culverhouse College of Business. He is also a member of My Mind Matters, an organization intended to promote improved mental health among minority students at UA and destigmatize proper mental health.
Teryn Shipman is an alumna of the University. She majored in Political Science. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, she is a first year law student at Southern University. She is the creator of “For Black Girls Who Have a Lot To Say,” a blog highlighting issues that affect black women and the community. She uses her blog to educate her readers on issues that she cares about and ways they [her readers] can support. She is an advocate for voter rights, eradicating gender violence, and the abolishment of the prison-industrial complex.
Mikayla Wyatt is a senior at the University. She is majoring in Political Science. She is from the state of Georgia. She is the Opinions Editor for the Crimson White. She organized a protest for the resigning of Dr. Jamie Riley, former Dean of Students in 2019.
JacQuan Winters is a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He graduated from the University of West Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and master’s in Education. He is the director of Kristen Amerson Youth Foundation.