Activist Spotlight: Brooke Solomon

Supermajority Education Fund

February 24, 2020

Brooke Solomon is a 17-year-old activist and organizer in Detroit. In honor of Black History Month, she told Supermajority News about her journey to becoming an activist and all the great work she’s doing in her community. Here’s her story, in her own words.

In the eighth grade, I transitioned school districts — from one in a predominantly white, wealthy Detroit suburb to one in the city. Growing up as a black girl, I’ve seen inequities all around me, all my life. But seeing such drastic differences between these schools — like overcrowded classrooms, not having enough (or any) textbooks, and deteriorating facilities — was different. 

During my freshman year of high school, I joined We The People of Detroit Youth, a grassroots environmental and social justice organization, through which I did educational justice work. I went to school board meetings as a student representative, to make sure that youth voices were heard by the board when they made decisions about our education.

Then, in 2018 — my sophomore year — the Parkland Shooting happened, and the March For Our Lives movement took off. Students in Detroit don’t just worry about school shootings and mass shootings, but police violence and gang violence, too. The passion is and has been there to do something about it, but we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t always have the resources to go out and organize around it. Witnessing March For Our Lives made me realize that I can bring that movement to my community, to Detroit. 

I formed a team of three other young girls of color in my school, and we got together and wrote up a plan to join a national walkout. We took it to our principle and said, ‘Kids across the country are organizing, and we want to make sure that Detroit isn’t left out.’

We faced so much backlash from our administration. At first, they said walking out would be unsafe, that we’re too young to be doing stuff like this and don’t understand what we’re doing. I was 15 years old and put in the position of missing class to defend my mission and my team to administrators and teachers. Then they brought in other people: Once, someone from the school board told me that if I went through with the walkout, I would get all my friends killed. Another time, two people in suits from Homeland Security with titles longer than my arm came to tell me all the reasons why my idea wasn’t good and would go wrong.

I later heard that young organizers across the country also got backlash from their administrations, but I feel like ours might have been different because we were organizing for. We wanted to talk about all forms of gun violence, and many people don’t want to talk about those things.

Ultimately, I put all fear they tried to instill in me aside because I knew I was organizing for a cause that matters, that I had the support of my team, and that I was right. It clicked; I told our administration, “‘This isn’t about you, this is about us. This is the plan. Either you’re going to get with our plan, or you’re going to have 2500 kids walk out, and you’re not going to be part of it. You can choose.”

In the end, our walkout was, dare I say, one of the most successful events ever organized at our school. Over 2500 students did walkout against gun violence. We did a mini-march and then had a rally with speakers. The students were so excited to be included in the national conversation. We made international news. At that point, our administrators wanted to be like, “See, we had your back the whole time. Look what you did with your help.” 

After seeing that enthusiasm, my team and I decided to help organize the city-wide Detroit March for Our Lives — which was just ten days later. That was its own struggle. A lot of the kids who came to the initial organizing meetings didn’t want the march to focus on police brutality or gun violence that exists in the inner city. As young black and brown people who live in the city, my friends and I had to convince these mostly white, suburban kids that if we’re going to talk about gun violence, we have to talk about all gun violence — including the gun violence that persists the most in our city. Some kids dropped out over that discussion, but on March 24, we still successfully organized a march of a diverse group of 10,000 people. 

The core team of young women I did all this work with, and I decided to form an organization: Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM). For almost two years now, we’ve been doing grassroots work around voter registration. Young people are really eager to join social justice campaigns around climate change, gun violence, and reproductive justice, but we want to make sure we’re drawing the connection between those issues and voting. We want to send the message that voting helps support the people who are the most marginalized, and those are the people we need to lift up — that’s where we need to start.

I’m also the State Chair of the High School Democrats of America and work on their national staff as the Diversity Director. Our base is predominantly white and suburban — but as the Diversity Director, I’m working on that.

One of my biggest takeaways from the activist work I’ve done is that my identity as a black girl plays a role in everything I do. I have realized that I need to have a firm grasp and sense of myself so that nobody can take it away from me. Having to try to convince older white men in positions of power that they don’t know everything, and they certainly don’t know my experience, has been challenging. But I’ve gotten so much power from the black women who came before me. I’ve read Angela Davis and Audre Lord’s words and have realized: “They did it. Here’s the proof. And they look like me. So why can’t that be me?”