On Friday, July 8, Portland remembered the lives of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men killed by police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, that week. More than 500 people attended the peaceful demonstration and protest, marching from Monument Square to City Hall to the Portland police station.
To the surprise of many, the event was organized by a group of teenagers.
Meet Kesho Wazo. Comprised of about 35 members — most under the age of 21 — Kesho Wazo is a youth-led activist group committed to anti-hate work in the area, with a stated focus on spreading love and equality regardless of the social constructs that divide us: race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, etc.
With social media fueling national movements like #blacklivesmatter, the methods for activism have changed along with the leaders. Today, youth — the generation of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat — are at the forefront of the civil rights movement.
In the long American saga of police brutality and racial tensions, the events of the week of July 4, 2016, may be seen as just another footnote. Or they could be a catalyst for a positive shift not seen since the aftermath of the L.A. riots.
We had the opportunity to talk with Kesho Wazo co-founder David Thete [at right pictured below with fellow member Jalan Price, left].
Chanel Lewis: Tell me about Kesho Wazo. What does it mean?
Kesho Wazo: Kesho Wazo means “Tomorrow’s Ideas” in Swahili. It’s a mindset. You can label us a[n] organization, a brand, or simply just a group of kids expressing themselves. We just don’t want to watch and let history repeat [itself]. We want to write our own history books.
CL: What is Kesho Wazo? How did Kesho Wazo form?
KW: Kesho Wazo is love. We are tomorrow’s generations, and we simply have ideas to offer to the world, to make known, to share and to grow. It was given to me; I didn’t form it. I went through it. My brother Jalan and I lived it. We formed [Kesho Wazo] through learning from our mistakes and taking risks.
CL: I feel it. So, what are your goals as a group?
KW: Our goal is to impact the youth at a young age to open their minds. They are free to create anything and everything that their minds will allow.
CL: Is Kesho Wazo an anti-racist group?
KW: We are an anti-hate, anti-negativity, and anti-oppression group. You can’t box this group in.
CL: So, what about the events in Louisiana and Minnesota spurred Kesho Wazo to act and host a vigil on Friday, July 8?
KW: What happened [in] all those places is not love; that’s hate. We had to take action because if we don’t, then who will? We knew the youth felt some type of way about everything taking place, so we wanted to give them a platform to express their emotions — a platform that isn’t Twitter or Facebook. Especially seeing our own people being killed, we had to speak out. But we represent everyone. With that being said, we had to include the police [to participate] in our vigil.
CL: Since the vigil, Kesho Wazo has participated in another service, and in interviews with various news stations and papers. It’s obvious that there’s something special about the youth voice that people want to hear. Why is the youth so important?
KW: The youth’s voice is important because we are tomorrow. The youth are the ones that are going to have to carry all of earth’s burdens in upcoming years. If we can get a head start now and voice our thoughts and ideas now, why not do so?
CL: Does Kesho Wazo accept new members? If so, what’s the process for joining the group?
KW: Yes, Kesho Wazo is accepting new members. We would ask that a person send us a portfolio, and a profile of yourself. Write down what you have to offer, and what Kesho Wazo means to you.
CL: Does Kesho Wazo have anything else planned for the community? What’s next?
KW: Our biggest event is our post dialogue that will be held at SPACE Gallery. We are [also] in the middle of shooting a short film series that we’ll be releasing at the end of the summer.
CL: That’s awesome! I look forward to the dialogue. Finally, why should people believe in Kesho Wazo?
KW: Because we are coming [from] all different angles. We aren’t just a group of activists; we are artists, creators, musicians, playwrights, actors, and many more. We have love, and we aren’t doing this for money. You should believe in us because we believe in the power of coming together. We are not all the same people. Some of us are black, white, readers, writers … it doesn’t matter. We’re going to find a way to get our point across, and bring our ideas forward in positive ways.
Learn more about Kesho Wazo at keshowazo.org