Thandiwe Abdullah, 17, doesn't remember her first protest, because she was just two years old when her mother took her to a Free the Jena Six rally. It wasn't until she was six that she recalls driving up to Oakland, California with her mother to protest the merciless killing of Oscar Grant in 2009. Thandiwe was raised in a family of activists, and her mother started taking her to Black Lives Matter meetings at a young age. Early on, though, Thandiwe realized that she and her siblings were some of the only children in these spaces. "BLM was founded on the principals of being open to families and the idea that the village raises the child," she told Seventeen. "But my siblings and I were essentially the only children that they were raising." So, Thandiwe decided to help create an offshoot of the organization that was focused on the children. And thus, the BLM Youth Vanguard was born. Since then, Thandiwe, the Youth Vanguard, and other young people across the Los Angeles area have been fighting to protect LA students. They have successfully removed random searches from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and they are now working on removing school police from the campuses entirely.
What kind of work have you done with the Youth Vanguard?
It started around the time the phrase defund the police was getting heavily circulated. Everyone was talking about it and we wanted to make sure that our school districts knew that we didn't only mean the Los Angeles Police Department, we meant school police too. Los Angeles has the largest and most heavily funded school police department in the country and it's a faction of the LAPD so they have access to a lot of LAPD resources. In the past, the Los Angeles School Police Department has received grenade launchers, a tank and M16 assault rifles, while we were going to school board meetings every week, telling them that our schools need more resources and money. Why are we reading textbooks that are falling apart while the LASPD has a budget of $70 million? So, we didn't win that completely, but we did get $25 million to be reallocated to the highest need schools in LAUSD. We're not done, though. We're still trying to get the rest of that money redistributed to these schools and we're also trying to make sure that pepper spray is banned. Then, in the long run, we want to make sure that there's no more school police on LAUSD campuses.
What was the process like to remove random searches from LA public schools?
The Youth Vanguard worked with an organization called Students Deserve and we spent a lot of time addressing the needs of our own schools and organizing within Los Angeles. We also got a lot of help from BLM Toronto. They were succesful in removing the police from their schools and we kind of modeled the "BLM in Schools" platform after what they were doing in Toronto. Eventually, we won that fight. We got random searches out of schools.
What has been one of your biggest victories so far?
I think it would be ending random searches in LAUSD because it just took so long. It was like three years in the making. It was really amazing to see the progression of going from having only 20 people at these school board meetings to getting a BET documentary made about the work that we were doing.
What is a major goal of yours?
I think my biggest goal is to help young people understand that the world we know right now is not something we have to just sit back and accept. I think a lot of people often forget that because we are told that this is just the way the world is. It's the way it has always been and always will be. It's really interesting, though, because somebody had to think of creating all of these systems that we're currently living with. This was all someone's imagination and we can imagine something different. I think we should be leading the work of dreaming of something better for ourselves.
Answers have been edited and shortened for clarity.
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