After Colin Kaepernick donated $25,000 this year to Assata’s Daughters, a Chicago-based organization, conservative news outlets across the country were quick to denounce the group that they said was named after a “cop killer.” Lost in that outcry was an examination of the two-year-old group’s actual activities: Kaepernick’s announcement stated that $2,500 would go toward the Cop Watch program, another $2,500 for a garden, $5,000 for a library and $15,000 for teen workshops.
Page May started Assata’s Daughters in 2015. After borrowing space from the University of Chicago, the group moved last month into its own building in Washington Park. May says the building is far from perfect—it still needs heating and has more construction to be done—but it is something they’ve never had, a home.
We caught up with her to talk about the group’s programming, approach and how it helps young people power the movement for Black lives.
What was the thought process that led you to create Assata’s Daughters?
I became aware of how important it was for young people to be able to participate in the movement for Black lives after organizing with a group called We Charge Genocide [which promoted youth voices in its work to bring attention to police violence against low-income community and young people of color]. There wasn’t an intentional space for young people to get involved with the movement that really centered their needs. So that was the idea.
Some call you a violence prevention group; some call you a Black liberation group. What do you cl you?
Assata’s Daughters is an organization that seeks to support and engage young people. It provides them with a political education and leadership development that is necessary for them to achieve the things that they want to see in their community.
What is your approach?
We meet young people where they’re at and then push. Young people need a lot of support and in order for them to be able to participate meaningfully in social change. We are connecting them to resources from expunging their record, to accessing housing and shelter, to help with getting a job.
Secondly, we believe in political education and that people have to get woke before they can get organized. We’re trying to help ground what many young people feel as frustration, rage and alienation by this world and in this city, and giving a historical context to those feelings.
Briefly explain the core programs of Assata’s Daughters
We have our juniors program, Akerele, which means one who is strong in spite of being small. That is our weekly political education program for Black girls, ages 6 to 12. Then we have Assata University, our year-round political education program for teens. Topics include environmental justice, Black history and the principles of Black feminism.
We have our leader circle: young people who meet weekly to work on organizing events for the community, organize parts of Assata’s University, do fundraising and also help organize and lead campaigns. Also, we have two community gardens and hopefully more next summer.
You’ve mentioned that abolitionist politic is woven into Assata’s Daughters. What does that mean?
Right now we have a justice system where, when something goes wrong, your options are to call the police or do nothing. If you call the police, the best you can hope for is an answer to these questions: Who did it and how do we punish them?
Under abolition, we are fighting for a transformative justice model that asks new questions: Who is harmed, how do we help them and how to make sure that this never happens again? Those aren’t questions that get answered in our current system.
How do you make change happen?
Imagine our people, and let’s say they are stuck under a mountain. Let’s call that mountain slavery, or Jim Crow, or Chicago. No single person can move that mountain, but we are all stuck under it. We shake and we shiver, and then you get Harriet Tubman and she shakes it, and you get a small crack, and every single person that goes through her makes the crack bigger and bigger. It’s regular people putting tiny fractures into a mountain until it falls—that is how change occurs.
Assata Shakur, your group’s namesake, was a member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted—some say wrongfully—of shooting a state trooper in 1973. What does her name mean to you?
Assata has a very important role in movement for Black lives. To me, she represents the radical struggle. She’s angry, she’s pissed off and she doesn’t trust the U.S. in ways that resonate with a lot of us. She fiercely loves her people and she is a political prisoner and a target because she is so powerful. She resists, she survives, she escapes and that is really important for Black people to know, that people have been able to do that.
The name of our group is trying to acknowledge a direct link to history, that the movement for Black lives is not new, neither in terms of the problems we are seeing nor the resistance. We get a lot of flack for it because people are ahistorical and afraid of Black liberation.
This report was produced by City Bureau, a Chicago-based civic journalism lab. Find out more at http://www.citybureau.org.