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Adrienne Samuels Gibbs

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Charlene Carruthers

On the importance of taking up space—literally and figuratively—for black empowerment.

Charlene Carruthers is texting with one hand and typing with the other, a steady stream of journalists and fellow activists traipsing up and down the stairs of her home-turned-community meeting space on the University of Chicago campus. As national director of the black feminist collective Black Youth Project 100, Carruthers oversees an organization that is mobilizing black youth in cities across the country to stand up against racial injustice. “Liberation is led by those who are directly impacted,” the 30-year-old organizer says.

The organization—which also has chapters in the Bay Area, New York City, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.—is known for asserting black presence by literally taking up space. Tactics include marches, roadblocks, street forums, “die-ins” with protesters lying prostrate on the ground, and overtaking public hearings with huge crowds. BYP100’s public demonstrations spurred the firing of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy this past December. And though momentum has spread beyond the black community, thanks to a growing national understanding of the perils of being young and black in America, their meetings remain exclusive to members of the African diaspora. “Having black space is an imperative for us to be able to do our work,” insists Carruthers.

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