Five years ago, Charlene Carruthers helped form the Black Youth Project 100 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Since then, the Chicago-based organization has grown into a national operation focused on everything from police accountability to universal child care to the decriminalization of marijuana.
Last week, Carruthers announced she will step down as the national director of BYP 100 at the end of the year. She plans on shifting her focus to working on her book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, and training organizers.
Morning Shift spoke with Carruthers about the work she’s done over the last five years, how BYP 100 has grown, and her future.
The organization began the night George Zimmerman was acquitted
Charlene Carruthers: We were actually going to dismiss for that night, and then someone found out on social media that the verdict was going to be announced. And so we gathered in a circle in that room and I just remember holding hands with the people next to me and bracing myself for whatever was to come. I didn’t expect justice in any form to be delivered by the state, but I knew that we were going to have to do something regardless of what the decision would be.
We spent about an hour in the circle — people sharing their feelings and their thoughts about the not guilty verdict. I didn’t leave that room until after 1 a.m. because we were planning our next steps. That night was when we decided we were going to shape an organization.
‘We organize with a commitment to the liberation of all black folks’
Carruthers: How we do that is by leaning into radical black feminists, black LGBTQ, and the overall black radical tradition to help guide how we do our organizing.
Imagine putting on a pair of sunglasses. When you put on any kind of glasses, they impact the way you see the world. When you put on [black queer feminist lens], it requires you to see issues differently. It requires you to say, “How does this impact women? How does this impact transgender folks? How does this impact undocumented people?” How can we see things in the biggest way that they actually exist so that we can create more complete solutions?
On why she is stepping down and her future plans
Carruthers: The mark of the a good organizer is how well you can help develop other people. I am confident that we have developed some of the best leaders in this country that will then come into this organization and take it to the next level.
For me, I’ll be focused on my book. And I’m going to focus on training other organizers. I really want to start an institution that trains people how to do grassroots organizing, teaching communications, and things like that. That’s going to be my focus.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview, which was adapted for the web by Bea Aldrich.