Young activist fuels social change in Atlanta, Ga.
Her impassioned voice carried from the pulpit and rested on the ears of the hundreds of community members who gathered that crisp December evening in support of the #CommunitySpeaksATL forum.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win,” Aurielle Lucier said.
As 19-year-old Lucier spoke before an audience of college students, parents and politicians, some remained seated in their pews of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, eyes fixed on the young activist. Others rose from their seats and raised a fist in the air, statuesque as her speech continued. Her speech served as another community call-to-action in the midst of increasingly agitated local, national and international atmosphere surrounding the issues of police brutality, mass incarceration and social inequalities in America.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Ga., Lucier is becoming a reoccurring figure in news coverage regarding peaceful protests that have taken place in the city. These protests began in the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., almost four months ago to the day. The event sparked a chain reaction of localized efforts throughout the country and the global community, which through the help of modern technologies likes social media, are becoming interconnected in unprecedented ways. Despite thousands of miles of separation and a host of other cultural differences, Brown’s death bred a new age of solidarity and a new age of leaders- Lucier being one of them.
Her career as an activist is young, but Lucier said she has been learning about socially conscious topics, including her blackness, how being black affects young people, and gun violence since she was performing with the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta theater group at the age of 10.
“It kind of shaped how I felt about being active and for me that’s how artistry and activism became synonymous,” Lucier said.
Evident in the execution of the handful of speeches she has given over the past few months, Lucier also has artistic roots in poetry, which one of her mentors suggested during a challenging time in her life. Lucier became involved with the Atlanta Word Works nonprofit organization, best known for being the official Atlanta team for an international youth poetry slam entitled Brave New Voices. She is the former creative director of the organization and now serves as a teaching artist.
“Poetry gave me back to myself in a way… It allowed me to see the weight and the power of who I am and who I can be,” she said.
While activism is something that has been nestled inside of Lucier from a young age, her adventure as an activist and co-founder of the #ItsBiggerThanYou movement began only a few months ago, and she said it all started with a tweet.
“#ItsBiggerThanYou started with a tweet. It’s so important to say that because it reminds people and affirms the belief that young people have power that isn’t recognized institutionally, but it’s real.”
The first tweet Lucier sent out included her cellphone number and asked that anyone interested join her at the CNN Center to march in the memory of Michael Brown. A personal friend of Lucier’s suggested she develop a hashtag so people could keep track of the conversation on Twitter, and from that conversation, the official hashtag and subsequent organization, were born. Lucier said she took a screen-shot of the original tweet, added the “#ItsBiggerThanYou” hashtag, and the next day it was a trending topic in Atlanta.
For the next five days, Lucier and her team planned the march that took place at the CNN Center on Aug. 18.
“We planned for 500 people. We got there and 5000 people showed up to hang out with us. It was beautiful. It was pouring raining, but no one left. It was gorgeous; completely non-violent. No arrests were made, no altercations,” Lucier said.
According to Lucier, “That was the genesis.”
After the march, Lucier sat down with her peers to discuss how they would work towards creating sustainable change, so as not to let the momentum end with the march.
“We created a business model that enacts empowerment and awareness and encouragement and education through the vehicles of what young people are already using…Twitter and social media,” Lucier said. The organization uses platforms like Twitter and Instagram to spread the word about programs such as movie nights and reading corners as avenues for learning and discussion, according to Lucier.
As Lucier said, the march was just the beginning of peaceful protesting in Atlanta. According to various news sources, a handful of other demonstrations took place in the following months. On Oct. 22, protestors blocked I-75/85 northbound during the evening rush hour. On November 25, protestors gathered at Underground Atlanta for a community speak-out, following the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. On Dec. 1, another community speak-out was held at Ebenezer Baptist Church as mentioned before. Students have organized “die-ins” at Georgia State University and Kennesaw State University to bring awareness to the growing number of individuals (specifically unarmed black males) who have lost their lives at the hands of a police officer.
The community speak-out held at Underground Atlanta following the Grand Jury’s verdict began peacefully. Music played in the background as protestors chanted “No justice, no peace.” A young girl no older than five also participated in the crowd’s chants. Protesters’ signs read, ‘Police shootings are the new lynchings’ and ‘Truth is we are all one bullet away from being a #hashtag’.
A host of speakers and performers including Lucier took their turn on the makeshift podium which was erected directly beneath the Underground Atlanta sign. The Goddess of Liberty that sits atop the capitol building rested in the horizon just beyond the helicopter which loomed over the crowd for the duration of the rally.
A friend of Lucier, Tommy DiMassimo, drove from Ohio to attend the rally, and said he was arbitrarily arrested after an interaction with a police officer.
DiMassimo said after locating a friend who had been surrounded by hundreds of officers in riot gear on Peachtree Street, he “…began to leave when a black male was body slammed and hit by multiple officers. I put my hands in the don’t shoot position and yelled ‘You can’t do that.’”
DiMassimo said he was immediately snatched off the curb, slammed to the ground, and zip tied. He said he spent the next four hours in a paddy wagon with other arrestees.
Following his arrest, DiMassimo’s support for #ItsBiggerThanYou remained fervent.
“Yes as individuals we are strong, but as individuals united we are much stronger. The most important part of #ItsBiggerThanYou is that it’s lead by black youth. Black youth hold the key to making the social network connection between youth and political and social issues,” DiMassimo said.
The community speak-out held at Ebenezer Baptist Church is the most recent of events on Lucier’s timeline for social change. The setting provided the event with a particular poignancy, which was matched by Lucier’s prose.
“Unfortunately, law enforcement now kill an unarmed black person every 28 hours,” Lucier said during her speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Some of her closing words that day at the church were, “What are you willing to sacrifice for your freedom? I need you to stand now if you have ever feared your life. I need you to stand now if you have ever feared your son or daughter’s life.” Audience members responded by standing, clapping, cheering, and raising both arms in the air, which has become known as the ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ position, allegedly the position Brown was in when he was fatally shot.
During an interview, Lucier referred to an artist saying she learned from one of her elders. According to the saying, if you go up on stage and perform your set, and only touch one person, then the performance was worth it, and that’s all that matters.
Now, Lucier is always, “…very aware of that one person that needs this moment, who really needs to be brought into this energy of engagement and passion and power.
Judging by the reactions of the crowd as she stepped down from the pulpit and exited the chapel, the set was worth it.
At the age of 19, Lucier has received death threats; been targeted and arrested by police during peaceful protests; and rallied crowds of thousands in the name of social change and self-love. At the age of 19, Lucier has become an activist and one of the faces of an international campaign for change.