Listen: Chicago youth leaders Miracle Boyd and China Smith reflect on activism, trauma, and growth

Davon Clark/Injustice Watch

Chicago, IL – Members of GoodKids MadCity and Assata’s Daughters lead a march in the South Side’s Woodlawn neighborhood, Saturday, Jul. 11, 2020.

This piece was produced in collaboration with the South Side Weekly for Injustice Watch’s Essential Work series about young Black community organizers in Chicago.

Listen to two youth organizers with GoodKids MadCity—China Smith and Miracle Boyd—share what activism has taught them, discuss what they strive to do as organizers trying to transform Chicago, and explore the emotional toll their work takes.

This audio piece was produced by Erisa Apantaku of South Side Weekly, with additional editing by Priska Neely. Read a transcript below.

China Smith: My name is China Smith.

Miracle Boyd: This is Miracle Boyd. I live in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood.

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CS: I am from the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. I am eighteen.

MB: I’m eighteen years old.

CS: And I am an organizer in GoodKids MadCity.

MB: …Organizer with GoodKids MadCity.

CS: You know you’re traumatizing yourself when regular actions and functions become triggering to you.

MB: I know when I’m traumatizing myself, when I start to overthink about the situation and just constantly think about it, because then I’m reminding myself of the trauma that just happened. And I feel like as long as I think about it, it gives me a chance to not forget about it. I’m traumatizing myself every time I relive that moment.

Photo courtesy of China Smith

China Smith.

CS: The chant, I can’t breathe, for a proportion of time, it was really triggering for me. And I realized that being in these movements and constantly seeing Black death and just seeing the display of my people dying, it traumatized me. So sometimes when I hear people chant, “I can’t breathe” or I see a shirt that says “I can’t breathe.” I get a little triggered. One specific time, I saw a post on Facebook and there were these officers and they had shirts that said “I can breathe” and in that moment I was so outraged and hurt I started crying. And from that moment on, it was just pretty traumatic for me. Not only do we have to see this constant display of Black death, this trend of a chant from a man who actually died, but people are making mockery of it. It’s trauma.

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MB: Activism is needed in my community for the simple fact, there are a lot of things wrong within my community that needs to be changed. Poverty, gun violence, anti-Blackness, police brutality, COVID-19. It’s a lot of things going on. And then especially when the looting started, people were like only talking about the looting and I’m like, it’s bigger fish to fry than just be worried about the looting that’s happening. We don’t really care too much of that because merchandise can be replaced. Black lives cannot be replaced. Brown lives cannot be replaced. Lives period cannot be replaced.

CS: Activism is needed in my community because it will help bridge the disparities that people don’t even know about. When I learned about the gang database, I was like, wow, this is something used against us. There’s a whole database of suspected gang members. There’s no actual proof behind all of this especially since a lot of Black people don’t know if or when they’re put on a gang database. That’s something that we need to know about. And once we learn about these things and we know about these things, it will create outrage and that’s what’s needed. We need to be upset that things like this are in place. We need to be upset that things like this can hold us back. And once we get that outrage, activism happens.

Davon Clark/Injustice Watch

Chicago, IL — Miracle Boyd, an organizer with GoodKids MadCity, poses for a portrait before participating in GKMC’s Love March in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

MB: Youth and Black and Brown people in the city of Chicago, if we all come together on one accord, despite the racial problems that people might have with one another, put that all to the side, because at the end of the day, we’re better united.

CS: Those disparities can be faced if everybody works together.

MB: The most important thing that I’ve learned over this time is that no matter what the dream is or the goal is, is to always go for it. Fight for it. With this whole defund CPD, we’re still working. We’re still going to put that work forth to go out there and stop what we think is wrong because we don’t want cops in our schools and the school to prison pipeline is real and people just need to wake up. That’s one thing that I’ve definitely learned.

MB: Another thing that I’ve learned is to always save money, because you never know when the rainy day is going to come and due to the coronavirus stay-at-home order, it was a lot of people that was misplaced and a lot of people are still misplaced even after the stupid government assistance that they were giving out because that wasn’t enough and it’s not enough. It never will be enough. That’s temporary money that will be gone within the next few weeks. People deserve so much better than what we’re getting. And that’s just the truth.

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CS: I’ve learned that I’m a human. I’m young. I am motivated, but I also have emotions. Being on the front lines of protests, constantly having to scream at people to get your point across, it hurts, especially when you see slow progress. I’ve just decided that the activism is worth it for me. And I think that anybody who is in that field, anybody really, but this is really to my young Black activists, we’re human. We need to regenerate too.

CS: Thank y’all for listening to me talk. Young Black queen, South Side of Chicago, I’m going to do great things. You’re going to hear my name somewhere and it’s not just going to be to eulogize me. It’s going to be because I’m going to grow up and do big things. I’m going to fix this community. I’m going to fix as many communities as I can. Y’all just going to have to watch out for me and the rest of the youth. We coming strong. Period.

Editor’s note: Last Thursday, Injustice Watch published an essay by Smith and Boyd reflecting on their experiences since March. You can read that here. And on Friday, a day after we published the essay, Boyd was attacked by a Chicago police officer at a rally in Downtown. Read more about the incident here.