MGP Students Turn Passion into Advocacy Organization
When schools closed last March and students retreated to their homes to join classes virtually, activism likely wasn’t front of mind for most high schoolers. But even amidst a pandemic, Eva Oleita and Ama Russell couldn’t ignore the country’s injustices for Breonna Taylor and so many other under-reported black women. That is why they organized Black Lives Matter in All Capacities (BLMIAC) – to make it clear that all Black lives matter, including girls and women.
“Around March I was really distraught about the police brutality and I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I knew I wanted to get involved,” said Ama, a senior at Cass Tech in Detroit. “I was attending other protests and supporting and trying to figure out where my place was. Eva and I connected and wanted to have our own protest.”
The first protest Ama and Eva organized was the “Say Her Name” protest at the Spirit of Detroit in June 2020. They set up a chalkboard and asked passersby to write under the prompt, “Black women are.”
“A floral company donated a mural of flowers to hand out as women walked by,” said Eva, also a senior at Cass Tech. “While we were acknowledging we were abused and beaten down, we were also appreciating ourselves. It was different from the other protests. We were focusing on one thing not a lot of people were talking about.”
In centering the voices of black women and girls, Ama and Eva have built relationships with Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Rep. Brenda Carter, and State Senators Rosemary Bayer and Stephanie Chang.
“They want to hear us speak and care about our voices,” said Ama. “We’ve been invited to so many spaces.”
For Eva, “In All Capacities” underpins all she does.
“We wanted people to understand that matter was the minimum,” she said. “We deserve to be appreciated or seen in every aspect of our lives. In all capacities we deserved to be noticed.”
The most publicized action Eva and Ama took was the Free Grace campaign, where they camped out in front of the Oakland County Courthouse to protest the detention of Grace, a high school student who was sent to juvenile detention after she failed to complete her virtual schoolwork.
Grace was released less than 24 hours after the protest.
Through this protest, Eva and Ama met their mentor Vivian Anderson, founder of Every Black Girl. Every Black Girl is a national campaign and program focused on creating a world where every black girl can thrive. Eva and Ama also have support from their parents, sisters and other community activists.
One of their proudest accomplishments was being able to create a Christmas holiday for 25 families. They raised funds and provided a holiday experience of presents and giveaways.
They have received donations of time and money from over 1000 individuals and grants.
“It has been amazing. So many people believe in us,” said Ama.
Another focus has been on lightening the mental load and promoting self-care for Black women and girls.
This past summer they brought together 30 girls and young women for a healing series, an event they hope to run again.
With the help of MGP, they are both securing financial aid and scholarships to be able to attend their dream schools.
“The MGP experience has been like one big hug,” Ama said. “I have been so grateful to have a community of people to hold me in such a trying time. Meeting, whether in person or not, has kept me motivated and excited about my future.”
Eva says her MGP College Success Coach, Winston Coffee, has been instrumental in keeping her focused on getting scholarships for college.
“He makes sure I’m accountable for myself,” Eva said. “I’m about to go to college and I can’t slack off and know how I need to pay for this.”
Next year, as they go away to college, Eva and Ama hope to be able to continue their advocacy work wherever they land.
“I haven’t committed anywhere,” said Eva. She hopes to attend Clark Atlanta and major in biomedical engineering.
Ama is deciding between Howard University and Spelman College. She wants to continue her work in activism and gain experience in politics.
Eva’s advice: Don’t think just because you’re young you can’t do this. Because you can. You have a lot of support. You are never going to be the only one. Make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. Ama is an accountability partner. Asking if I eat, sleep, if I need anything.
Ama’s advice: A part of doing the work is taking care of yourself and achieving those goals. I think something especially for black people is doing the work for yourself and liberating yourself and caring for yourself. For my peers it is getting to college or that next step so that you can be the best person that you can be.
Learn More about BLMIAC
- What Kamala Harris’ ascension means for girls of color
- After a fellow Black girl was detained for not doing her schoolwork, I fought for her freedom
- I am a student Black Lives Matter activist. The Capitol insurrection didn’t surprise me.