Youth Organizer Spotlight: Puma

Youth Organizer Spotlights offer a chance to learn more about the youth who participate in our Youth Cultural Organizing Training (YCOT) — and be inspired by the energy, power, and wisdom they bring to our racial justice organizing community. 

Name: PumaPuma

Age: 17

How do you self-identify?

Black I guess, I’m also Latina but I feel like I don’t know enough necessarily to truly identify as that.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Well I am a half Nicaraguan half black girl who grew up in super white Coon Rapids with a Muslim stepdad and a Christian mom. I grew up in that crazy dynamic of so many people, coming from different spaces. Then I moved out to Arizona and got a rude awakening about how not Latina I was. But I also got immersed in a culture where I could partially be myself, where I didn’t have to be white necessarily, where I could be something that was brown but I couldn’t necessarily be black in those spaces. Then I moved to Minneapolis and I was with lots of kids from different backgrounds but still didn’t know—still wasn’t aware of my blackness to a certain extent. I could still be me but that was just because I was around people who just liked me. But now I’m here and I’m black, I guess.

How is your story or the story of your community connected to why you organize?

I guess well for me, when I grew up in Coon Rapids I faced a lot of racism. There was a lady who kept getting her house broken into and she just swore to God it was me, the 8-year-old little girl that was breaking into her home and so she set up a camera in the window out looking the kitchen. Set up a camera there for me, and all the kids in the neighborhood told me it was for me and then they all couldn’t play with me anymore and they were all white kids. No one would play with me, and I only had one friend, one black girl and then I moved away from her so yeah, that’s a big part of why I organize. And also, I guess I organize for my brothers, like, my brother who’s ten years old, I see some self-hate you know, he’s just not very proud of being Muslim, or being black and so yeah I do it for them. My community I feel like is the North side community. I’ve never lived there or anything, but I feel like those are where my people are, so I also organize for my people who are not able to organize for themselves.

What does building power mean to you?

Building power to me means building connection, culture and community. Like if you have, if you’re emotionally connected to the people around you that’s very powerful, because once you have, like Dr. Kai Greene says—once you have the emotions of somebody you’re able to move them and so, yeah to me that’s power. Being connected to people, because there’s power in people so when you’re all together it’s like, intense, yeah.

What were your expectations from the training?

I guess I didn’t really know what to expect, like I thought, I don’t know—I didn’t really have any ideas I just knew it was about to be some revolutionary radical stuff going on and it was that.

What surprised you?

How put together everything was, how everything had substance. There was, I never felt like I did anything that didn’t make sense to why I was doing it or I didn’t learn from it. So, me coming from the nonprofits that I come from, everything is a half-assed job—we just get the funding for it so we just go through the strokes—but with Voices for Racial Justice we have a set plan with people who are able to do these jobs.

What was your biggest take-away?

That in order to be a helpful person in the movement and in order to do what I’m doing right, I need to know things, I need to have knowledge and I can’t only be driven by emotions and that I need to have things set in stone to back myself up, and back my people up, so that for sure.

How have your views changed as a result?

That I guess, that I used to think that it would be easy to dismantle white supremacy, not easy, but that if I got enough people to be down with me, and if I was down with enough other people that we could just do it. But it kind of, I guess I kind of got a little discouraged when I realized how connected it is, how strong white supremacy is, how it’s built into our worlds like, everywhere. You know, there’s anti-blackness everywhere. So it just showed me that I’m living in a warp, a spiral I guess.

What do you think is the role of art in organizing and movement building?

To be intersectional and inclusive of all people that are oppressed, I think. But essentially there are no rules I guess, to speak your truth and tell your story and to be able to tell the story of people—accurately tell the stories of people who are not there to tell it themselves.

You’re an artist—how is art different than a conversation would be? How are you able to reach people in a different way than just talking to them?

I think, well I guess I’m an artist but I’m really just a writer. But with visual art, you can see, you can make someone see what you feel and then once you can see, just like you can make people see what is happening, you can make people feel those emotions. I think with writing, you can also make people see, just the way you word things, the way you put it on the paper.   It’s all about making people visualize what you feel and also feel what you visualize, what you see.

What is the most challenging part of organizing?

Getting enough people to care I think—getting enough new people to care cause you can have events and you’ll always have the same thirty people show up, because they care, but trying to reach out and get the attention of other people and make it relatable and tangible enough for them to want to show up. And it’s just the balance of making things fun, making it accessible, but also making it have substance for what you’re trying to do, and I think that’s a really hard part. Getting people involved.

What is your favorite part of organizing?

Building with people that I love, building with people that love me, building with people that love what we’re doing. Being, feeling that power inside of yourself. I don’t think there’s anything bad about power when it’s evenly spread out. But just feeling that power inside of yourself and seeing the power of the people around you, whether that’s a direct action, or a kick-back chill or talk. You know, just seeing that we all are so intelligent and have so much experience and it’s all right here in our city. You walk past people and never think of that and it’s the most cliché thing, but it’s so real and you just don’t really know who somebody is.

What does power mean to you and when do you feel powerful?

I feel most powerful when I’m with my people, like people who feel me, people who see the same things I see and yeah, feel me. Power to me is doing the right thing. It’s a powerful thing to do the right thing and whatever that means—well not whatever that means to you because a lot of things could be the wrong thing—but power is just being for the people. There’s so much power in building lives and making sure that people live a happy life. That’s a powerful thing to risk…to burn out your body for other people, but you shouldn’t. You have to remember self-care, self-love.

How do you practice self-care?

I’ve actually—that’s been like a topic in my head of how can I be better at self-care because I feel better when I’m feeling like I have an air about myself that just feels warm and good. But mostly I just try to take a break from Twitter. Twitter is just the best worst thing in my life, it tells me everything that’s going on, but typically everything that’s going on that I care about is everything that’s going wrong in my community and with my people. So—take a break from social media. I like being alone in my bed, relaxing, that’s how I self-care. Being with my friends, black love, getting together with all my friends and just chilling talking trash, just doing us.

 What is our responsibility to include healing in organizing?

I think that having those spaces open for people, and first and foremost letting people know if you’re not ready, then you’re not ready, and that’s fine. And that if you need help, and you need love, need closeness, we have to… people should let you know but at the same time we have to open the space for people to be comfortable enough to let people know you’re going through something. Just making sure people know what’s about to be some real tough work, triggering and then how we can heal ourselves after, and really just keeping spaces open, I guess.

Are you implementing anything you learned this summer through YCOT? If so—in what ways?

I think that the comic session was really inspiring to me. It just made me realize how you can really make something through art—that if I made a super dope comic about a bunch of black superheroes—who’s not going to read that who care about black people, or in my community? People are going to read that. So I’ve been doing little doodles with words—statements that mean a lot to me that have to do with ‘wokeness.’ Yeah that, and then the part of knowledge, that you need more knowledge, and just learning something once is not going to keep it there. We have to be walking intellectual soldiers in this game of social change, because if we don’t have our shit together, then nobody’s going to care. We’re just babbling emotional fools, you know.