Spotlight on Students: Black Lives Matter Activists Share Their Stories

KENNESAW, Ga. – With the rise in visibility of scholar-activists worldwide, Atlanta Black Lives Matter organizers Tiffany R. Smith and Devyn Springer agree that there is more to protests than what meets the eye. Both activists attest to a constant struggle between self and the movement.

Although Smith and Springer express moments of doubt and exhaustion, it is the struggle of their ancestors and the fight for humanity that pushes them to continue to break barriers.

Springer, 21, is a junior African and African Diaspora Studies major at Kennesaw State University. He experienced his first glimpse of activism in 10th grade at a predominately white private school. Aware of the power in his voice and body, Springer planned a cafeteria lock-in until the school’s racial issues were addressed. The action culminated with the group of students chanting protest chants they had researched on YouTube. Looking back Springer says the protest was terrible, but showed him insight into a world he hadn’t previously known.

Smith, 25, got her start in undergraduate academia at Bowling Green State University. She single-handedly planned an informative event discussing the connection of the National Pan-Hellenic Council to Black History in America. Her execution of this event and dedication to black culture and education landed her the president’s position of the Black Student Union during her final year in college. She continues to work in college administration as the program coordinator for the Center for Global Diversity and Inclusion at Agnes Scott College.

The two activists have been affiliated with RiseUp Georgia, a spin-off of the Black Lives Matter national movement, for about a year and a half.

Springer shed light on how difficult it is to find a partner whose political views align with his: “Relationally, it has just created relationships to be nonexistent,” said Springer. “But I’m working on it.”

In contrast, Smith has recently been involved with people who have in some ways been tied to movement work, although it hasn’t always been easy. She admits that previous relationships have been strained because of the amount of time she spent in meetings, organizing or in the streets taking action.

Finding a partner whose political views coincide with his is not Springer’s only issue. In high school, Springer attended a protest for Trayvon Martin in Florida following Martin’s death and the decision not to indict George Zimmerman. When he returned from Florida, his relationship with his mother had changed completely.

“The rest of my family made it very apparent that I was dropped, and that all further activism would just leave to more sanctions,” said Springer. “I call it the Cuba Effect, where you just keep getting more and more sanctioned off from your family.”

Smith refers to the struggle as a football game. There are countless, tireless hours that go into practice and preparation, but all the audience sees is the Super Bowl. In times of turmoil and moments where the fight for liberation become too heavy, both Smith and Springer emphasized the importance of self-care.

“I think that we have to be clear about when we need to step back before we, one, hurt the group, or b, and which is most important, hurt ourselves,” said Smith.

Not everyone knows how to be an activist. Most people jump into the arena just as Smith and Springer did at a young ages. Their advice to young people is to learn how to balance life, love and activism.

“Think about what you can offer and what you have and be OK with what you can give,” said Smith. “Think about your gift and skill and decide on how you want to share yourself and how you want to move this work.”

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