BY Mariela Regalado
On Saturday, January 14 approximately 200 students convened at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Educational and Memorial Center. Upon arrival students and chaperones were greeted by numerous happy faces. They were handed a notebook, pen, and shirt that were all emblazoned with the phrase “I KNOW MY RIGHTS.” Standing by the landing that holds the statue of Malcolm X hands raised in mid speech was outspoken athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick.
The Know Your Rights Camp (KYRC) is an ongoing campaign for youth fully funded by Kaepernick. It raises awareness on higher education, financial literacy, how to properly interact with law enforcement and so much more. It began in Oakland, followed by New York City, and will continue adding more cities to it’s roster. Upstairs in the ballroom that was covered in vibrant floor to ceiling murals of Malcolm and his journey was a catered breakfast by SweetChick Life. Colin Kaepernick walked around to interact with everyone, snapped a few selfies and engaged in conversation.
The event was officially underway when Kaepernick made his way to the stage and welcomed everyone. He immediately shared the significance of choosing the venue; it was the last place Malcolm X spoke and where he was assassinated. For me, it was a full circle moment. I felt blessed to stand in a sacred place, participate in an event aimed towards educating the youth, during MLK weekend that was created and facilitated by a professional athlete who uses his platform to demand change for some of our most vulnerable populations.
The KYRC facilitated discussions that kicked off with Ameer the lead speaker, a PHD candidate who told us that solidarity transcends social media, that support comes in different ways when you support a movement. One must arm themselves with knowledge and respect their elders and allow them the opportunity to tell their stories. Ameer urged the students to connect throughout generations by acknowledging the people that put in work for them. To take a moment to ask their abuelita to tell them cuentos from when she was young.
One of those inter-generational figures present was the daughter of Yuri Kochiyama. If you don’t know her, do yourself a favor and google her history and contributions to the civil rights movements in California, New York and beyond. Jamaal Joseph also addressed the crowd and shared anecdotes from his time as one of the youngest members to join the Black Panther party. He is also known as Tupac’s uncle. Currently teaching film and media studies in Columbia University, Jamaal told the story about his first time at the Black Panther headquarters. The ballroom was still, students holding on to every word he said. A true nugget of history and we were hearing it straight from the source. He revealed that there he was given the biggest weapon you can give a young, willing and able teenager: a stack of books.
The next workshop was hosted by Carmen Perez, Founder of Justice League NYC. Carmen passionately taught our students how to properly interact with law enforcement. We live in a country that straddles a fine line between police brutality and black lives. For black and latino people, historically our rights have been violated at the hands of police. A controversial topic that leads to a more important conversation. Do our young people know how to interact with police? What are their rights? Members of the Justice League NYC led the students through role playing in different scenarios and spoke to them about different outcomes. What NYS/NYC laws protect them, and they sparked conversation within small groups about stop and frisk. Carmen communicated to the youth to take responsibility- remain calm- de-escalate and make it home to your families.
I was super grateful to run the Higher Ed component. The students were engaged with a presentation that highlighted the crucial steps any student can take at any grade level to ensure college readiness and gave them resources that will help them build a college list and navigate financial aid. It was a jam packed event! The next two workshops were facilitated by Doctor Natural whose expertise is in natural healing and holistic help. His message to the students was clear, feed your body good and it will be good to you. Jay Morrison facilitated the financial literacy piece. His presentation had the students defining what a FICO score is!
These workshops and discussions were the perfect blend of things our students need to know but aren’t really taught in school. KYRC created a space to spark such topics.
Inspirational messages were given through the packed event. Messages that said we should arm ourselves with love. To take the rage you might feel at times because of what is happening in America and do something positive with it. Channel those emotions into something good and lasting. Embrace being a leader and you will see how differently people address you when you’re doing something positive.
At the conclusion of the event Colin stood by the step and repeat that was set up on the main staircase landing. He stood there to take photos with every single student that attended. As they exited Camp participants received a Nike bookbag, filled with goodies. Amongst those goodies was a brand new pair of Beats By Dre headphones, a copy of “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, a free 1 year membership to AncestryDNA, a KYRC hat, stickers, pens, and an assortment of pamphlets and information on eating healthy, higher education and financial literacy. As students grabbed their swag bag they were also treated with a to-go plate of Don Coqui catering for lunch. They emptied out onto the streets of Washington Heights buzzing with information, courage, and armed with the education that is essential to their journeys.
A resounding question was posed during the conference that I want you to ponder. “What are you doing right now to build your legacy? What kind of ancestor do you want to be remembered as? ”