African American Youth Activism

The previous issue of the Youth Activism Web Forum highlighted transnational activism -- young people’s involvement in global justice movements that seek to influence and change the policies and practices of powerful institutions on a global level. This issue’s focus on African American youth activism calls attention to young people directly facing the kinds of inequalities that global justice activism addresses – only they address them locally, in their own schools and communities. Our authors in this forum engage the idea that activism and civic engagement among youth of color is often overlooked or misrecognized by standard treatments, and may also take different forms from that of the typical participant in global justice struggles. These essays discuss how race, racism, and social class may shape young peoples’ analysis of social problems—and may influence their decision to work closer to home. In her essay, Cathy Cohen outlines four current research problem areas in the realm of African American youth activism and politics and urges social scientists to reconceptualize and recommit to understanding the politics of African American youth as a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Shawn Ginwright introduces the concept of transformative resistance where African American youth challenge negative stereotypes and become involved in local political struggles over quality of life issues. For both, moving beyond traditional frameworks of civic engagement provides an opportunity to expand our understanding of black youth involvement by acknowledging their economic, social, and political realities as well as the resources they draw on in addressing them.