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How members of Gen-Z are approaching this historic moment of change

Gen-Z is entering adulthood as the U.S. grapples with systemic inequities in institutions from policing to education to health care. Student Reporting Labs, our journalism program for high school students, asked teenagers across the country how they're approaching the moment, and Stephanie Sy talks to activists Thandiwe Abdullah, founder of Black Lives Matter LA Youth Vanguard, and Jalen Thompson.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    America's youngest labeled generation, known as Gen Z, those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, enters adulthood as the nation grapples with systemic inequities in our institutions, from policing to health care.

    The "NewsHour"'s Student Reporting Labs, our journalism program for high school students, spoke to teens across the country about how they see this moment.

  • Corie McCowin:

    A lot of times, you hear people say, oh, all lives matter, when they try to counter the Black Lives Matter movement.

    So, my question for the people who say this: When will there be equal opportunity in America for all races?

  • Yeonseo Seok:

    How are we as a country going to eradicate this issue of racism, when it has been so deeply rooted in our government, our society and the history of America? What is our next step?

  • Jailen Leavell:

    When are we going to see and address health disparities disparities in education? Can we in a country that is embedded in institutionalized racism for over 400 years? The time is now to create change.

  • Miah Moore-Alexander:

    I just wonder, why aren't people more compassionate? Why aren't people doing more? We're all Americans. We're all people. So, why should I have to be treated less than?

  • Justin Sybron:

    I don't want to grow up to have kids, and have them being scared because of their skin color.

  • Kevin Myers:

    It feels like there are so many people right now who just don't really bother trying or who don't understand at all.

    And, obviously, a white person will never truly understand that. But how do you get them to just recognize that life is different for black people than white people in this country? Because it seems like something that so many people are in denial of.

  • Tashi Mathuin:

    I have donated. I sign petitions. I have been posting on my social media. But I'm wondering what else there is that I can do to support the social justice movement, because I feel like I need to do more, and I have a responsibility to take more action, but I don't know how to do that.

  • Hannah Bradley:

    With all the people who are screaming out for change, will there be a change? I hope to God there is a change.

  • Anyiah Chambers:

    To build safer and stronger communities, it's going to take everyone to combat racism in America. You have to have conversations with your friends, your family, your colleagues. And it's going to be hard. But the conversations are definitely worth it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, as we're hearing, America's teenagers are asking tough questions. Some of them are also offering policy solutions.

    Stephanie Sy spoke to two young Black Lives Matter organizers about why they're protesting and their vision for change.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    In the wake of the latest killings of unarmed black men by police, a new crop of young leaders is emerging.

    They're part of Generation Z. And with their bold calls for dismantling traditional policing and other systems, some say they hold the keys to lasting change.

    I'm joined now by two young organizers, 16-year-old Thandiwe Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles Youth Vanguard, and 17-year-old Jalen Thompson of O'Fallon, Missouri. Jalen was one of the lead organizers for his city's protests.

    Thank you both so much for being with us.

    Jalen, not only did you help to organize the protest in O'Fallon, Missouri, population 88,000, but I understand this was your first protest.

    Can you describe what that day was like for you?

  • Jalen Thompson:

    For me, it was just very, very surreal, I guess is the best way to say that.

    This has been kind of a breaking point, seeing that we're just now graduating and getting into the — leaving into the world. So it's scary to think that this could be us some day. And that's why we were so happy to see so many people coming together, to kind of start having this conversation, even in places where it's not often talked about.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jalen, there's a picture of you at that protest holding a sign that simply says, "I Am Human Too," which is a powerful statement.

    But another powerful statement is that you were arm in arm with O'Fallon's police chief.

    Can you describe what that felt like, especially when so many consider the police to be the problem?

  • Jalen Thompson:

    Well, here in O'Fallon, we definitely have a much better relationship with our police officers than in a lot of other places, and I think that's why we're working with them to kind of keep the protests safe.

    It's not all of the officers that are the problem, but it's the system that they operate under. They are able to do these things that they do that are sometimes inhuman, basically, and they're able to get away with a lot of it because of the way that our system works. And that's why we need to change it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Thandiwe Abdullah, you have been organizing in a protest in Los Angeles, which is one of the places where police have been criticized for how they have handled protests.

    And we have seen numerous videos of police actually being violent toward peaceful protesters and journalists and even bystanders.

    So, I wonder how you read when a police officer is part of a march or takes a knee.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    I view this as a systemic problem.

    I don't believe in the good cop narrative. I believe that there are good people who decide to become cops, but, in choosing to do that, I feel you are choosing to join an oppressive system.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    We have heard two phrases, defund police and abolish police, become popular in recent weeks. I wonder what you think about the effectiveness of that language.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    What I think that a lot of people mean when they say defund or abolish police is, we need to reimagine what safety looks like. It's not like we don't want need — that we don't want law enforcement or that we don't want security for our communities, but we need to reimagine what that looks like.

    Someone imagined this world that we live in today. And so I think we need to think about, you know, really taking the time to think of something different, right? We have imaginations. Let's use them. Does safety look like community-based security? Does safety look like mental health? Does it look like affordable housing?

    Does it look like the security guard that works at your school? We really need to just take that time to dream of something better.

  • Jalen Thompson:

    It's going to be hard.

    And just like with all of the defunding the police and kind of reimagining, as she said, with the police that we need to do, it's going to take a while. And that's why we need to be involved in the fight as we can be starting now, so that, down the road, in a few years from now, we're still going to be there.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Thandiwe, I want to play a short clip of you at one of the protests. Take a listen.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    I'm graduating this year.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • TThandiwe Abdullah:

    And the world that I am about to head up into does not want me.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Absolutely heartbreaking to hear the sentiment that you feel in that video, Thandiwe.

    I wonder if you can talk about how the trauma of continually seeing unarmed black people shot and killed by police has affected you.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    We do have to start considering the mental health and emotional toll that it takes on black people to see these videos constantly on social media and even the news now.

    They don't censor — I remember when I saw Ahmaud Arbery on the news. Nothing was censored. It was the complete video of the murder. And it does something to, I think, not only me, but to a lot of black people, especially considering the generational trauma that a lot of us have in terms of police brutality and just white supremacy in general.

    And so what it feels like is a war on black bodies and black people. And to grow up in this movement, right, because I have been in this movement since I was very young, and kind of see all of this unfold time and time and time again, it — it's heartbreaking.

    And it kind of sometimes makes me feel like this world just wasn't meant for my life to be able to live in.

  • Jalen Thompson:

    Our school systems, our economic system, the way that our cities are set up, it's just not — we are meant to be oppressed. We're meant to not have the same opportunities.

    And people who see those opportunities everywhere for everyone are kind of being led by the system. We're kind of in a circle of police brutality, leading to people feeling hopeless, leading to kids feeling hopeless in schools, not only because they see those things, but also because they just don't have the same resources.

    So, for me, it's — I'm hoping that I can kind of be a voice to say that that's something that we need to focus more on, is not only ending police brutality and kind of rethinking that, but also rethinking the way that we're sending our young kids into the world, because a lot of them aren't prepared.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Thandiwe, there are so many expectations for your generation, Generation Z. And I wonder whether you have hope that this is the moment that leads to permanent policy change.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    Yes, Generation Z, we are fed up. We are the generation that says no more.

    And I think that we will be the generation that really revolutionizes this world and transforms the world for the better. But, at the same time, on the flip side, it is kind of a lot to say that the future of this entire world and this nation is resting on Gen Z's shoulders, when we have barely even made it out of childhood yet.

    And I think it is kind of a little bit of an easy way out for a lot of older generations to be able to say, well, this is on you all, and you have to take over, when, you know, they're not gone yet. We still need all the help that we can get.

    And so I think that it does have to be a balance between letting Gen Z and kind of accepting that Gen Z will be the change, but also, at the same time, making sure that older generations are doing their part in making sure that our future is bright as well.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Jalen Thompson in O'Fallon, Missouri, and Thandiwe Abdullah joining us from Los Angeles, thank you both so much for sharing your perspectives.

  • Thandiwe Abdullah:

    Thank you.

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