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.

George W. Dunne Cook County Office Building, in front of which BYP100 has staged community forums demanding the resignation of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.

Securing black-only activism hasn’t always been easy. America’s first civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was founded by three white liberals. Two-thirds of the Congress of Racial Equality’s founding members were white. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was contentiously integrated until Stokely Carmichael became president in 1966, arguing in a widely read essay that “an all-black project is needed in order for the people to free themselves,” stating that “black people cannot relate to SNCC because of its unrealistic, nonracial atmosphere; denying their experience of America as a racist society.”

Fifty years later, BYP100 is proudly insular, protecting its blackness to prevent the deracialization and manipulation of its politics. The group has refused to meet with mayors and banned white people from protests. Rather than division, Carruthers discusses this stance in terms of inclusion, empowering the wide-ranging nature of black grievance. “We use the phrasing of ‘unapologetically black’ as a framework for our organization because we believe that blackness is so many different things,” she says. “We can be women and be black. We can be queer and black. We can be undocumented and black. We can be wealthy or poor and be black.”

Dyett High School, where activists went on a 34-day hunger strike to stop the historic school from closing.

Carruthers was turned on to politics at 18—around the same age as most of the organization’s current members— while studying abroad in slowly integrating, post-apartheid South Africa. She moved into organizing five years later while working on immigration issues in Washington, D.C. Since then, Carruthers has worked with everyone from the NAACP to the Center for Progressive Leadership, joining BYP100 in 2013. She even visits and maintains relationships with activist groups in Ireland, Ghana, Mexico, Palestine, Costa Rica, and Haiti to dispense advice and share her experiences.

The past year has seen black activism flourish in America, particularly in Chicago, and Carruthers pinpoints three moments that were especially meaningful for her and BYP100. In August, the Chicago chapter overran an Independent Police Review Authority meeting with a chanting crowd that declared the board illegitimate and called for the firing of Dante Servin, the police officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. In October, the same chapter helped shut down the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police by blocking the roads around North America’s largest convention center. In December, months of protest by the New Orleans chapter over local Confederate monuments culminated with the city council voting to remove four statues, including a bronze effigy of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Magnificent Mile on North Michigan Avenue, where activists blocked access to luxury retail stores on Black Friday.

Going forward, Carruthers is focused on BYP100’s Agenda to Build Black Futures, an economic and racial justice policy platform that includes recommendations for reparations, transgender equality, divestment from police and prisons, and the funding of black educational and economic development. The organization is also demanding the resignations of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for what appears to be a cover-up of the police killing of teenager Laquan McDonald.

And each triumph leads to more success. “We don’t live in a vacuum, and we aren’t the only ones doing this work. In a movement, people feed off the energy of other folk,” she says. “We’re living in a movement where the visibility of police violence, and the visibility of poverty, and the gross lack of compassion and morality of people who have been elected to represent us is part of the momentum. And, we organize. Organizing is there to maintain momentum.”


The global climate change strikes on Friday are said to have been the largest protest for climate change in history. An estimated four million people participated in 2,500 events across 163 countries on all seven continents. That included an estimated 300,000 Australians, but a total of zero were in Hyde Park in Sydney, despite a viral photo that claims otherwise.

Australian Youth Coal Coalition, a pro-coal Facebook page, posted a photo showing trash strewn across a park after what appears to have been a large event. "Look at the mess today's climate protesters left behind in beautiful Hyde Park," the photo was captioned. "So much plastic. So much landfill. So sad." The only problem is, the photo wasn't taken after a climate change protest. It wasn't even taken in Australia.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via GOOD / YouTube

Last Friday, millions of people in 150 countries across the globe took to the streets to urge world leaders to enact dramatic solutions to combat climate change.

The Climate Strike was inspired, in part, by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who has captured worldwide attention for her tireless work to hold lawmakers responsible for the climate crisis.

The strike gave people across the planet the opportunity to make their voices heard before the U.N. General Assembly Climate Summit in New York City on Monday.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

As world leaders meet to discuss new ways to tackle climate change at the U.N. Climate Action Summit, they might miss one very big part of healing nature – nature. In a new short film, youth climate change activist Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian, talked about how we need to use nature as a solution to climate change.

There's a huge push to curb emissions, but it's not the be all end all of handling climate change; we also need to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While we don't have technology to do that for us, there is another solution. "There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It's called a tree," Monboit says in the film. Researchers found that we could get rid of two-thirds of the carbon dioxide that we've emitted during the industrial era just by growing trees. That amounts to 205 billion tons of carbon. Right now, deforestation of tropical forests is responsible for 20% of current greenhouse emissions.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Climate Action Tracker

In 2016, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to combat climate change by taking action to curb the increase in global temperatures. The Paris Agreement requires countries to report on their emissions and what steps they're taking to implement those plans. Now that the countries are coming together again for the U.N. Climate Action Summit in New York City, it's worth taking a look at what kind of progress they've made.

The Climate Action Trackerkeeps tabs on what each country is doing to limit warming, and if they're meeting their self-set goals. Countries are graded based on whether or not their actions would help limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

According to a recent article from National Geographic, The Gambia, Morocco, and India are at the head of the class. "Even though carbon emissions in The Gambia, Morocco, and India are expected to rise, they'll fall short of exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius limit," the article reads. Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States, on the other hand, get a big fat F. "Projected emissions in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States are far greater than what it would take to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

Greta Thunberg has been dubbed the "Joan of Arc of climate change" for good reason. The 16-year-old activist embodies the courage and conviction of the unlikely underdog heroine, as well as the seemingly innate ability to lead a movement.

Thunberg has dedicated her young life to waking up the world to the climate crisis we face and cutting the crap that gets in the way of fixing it. Her speeches are a unique blend of calm rationality and no-holds-barred bluntness. She speaks truth to power, dispassionately and unflinchingly, and it is glorious.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet