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Million Hoodies focuses activism on students of color

By Montserrat Castro

This semester saw the creation of Million Hoodies, a new, student of color-driven activist organization at the College. The group is led by President Malcolm Davis, Vice President Jelani McCray, Treasurer Sara Castro, Secretary C’Erra Houston and Campaign Chair Emmanuel Ogundipe, all ’21.

The name comes from the larger national organization called Million Hoodies for Justice, of which the Grinnell College group is part. The national organization was born in response to the February 2012 shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie at the time. On its website, the organization defines itself as “a grassroots human rights movement of students working together to end gun violence and reimagine safety and justice for all communities.”

According to McCray and Davis, Million Hoodies in Grinnell is one of the newest additions to the national organization.

In the College, the organization is built specifically for students of color and has as its local focus the intention of doing activism in order to benefit the Grinnell community. The group also wishes to be part of the national image of black and brown grassroots activism.

“Although we’re mainly focusing on issues that affect people of color, we’re also focusing on issues just as activists in general because you just can’t ignore that, being here at Grinnell,” said McCray.

The leading students said how it is important for them to have an intentional space on the College campus for students of color to organize, due to the lack of inclusion felt in other organizing spaces.

“There are a lot of other organizing spaces on campus where it’s not easy to feel comfortable in if you’re a student of color and you don’t share the same identity. It’s really about being a place to fill a need and a void that I think we all notice within the Grinnell community,” said Castro.

Davis, the group’s president, said that Million Hoodies could be defined as the halfway meeting point between other student activist groups like Grinnell United Activism Collective or Student Action and multicultural groups like Concerned Black Students and the African Caribbean Student Union. As of now, the group has aproximately 15 students and continues to grow.

The group started after Davis saw Dante Barry, co-founder of the national Million Hoodies, speak about the organization at an equity summit in Los Angeles in 2015. Davis contacted Barry through Twitter, expressing his interest in becoming involved with the organization, since he believed the model fit Grinnell really well.

“He has been helping us and now we’ve got the materials, the framework and the network,” Davis said.

In a more critical vein, the leaders talked about what racial and social justice means to them, and the organization’s goals and focus reflect this.

“I think that, as far as for now, it just means that like, as people of color, we should feel as comfortable and safe as everyone else here,” said Houston.

Their first step is establishing that they want everybody involved, such as Latinx, international and black students, to have a degree of safety that is currently not met at Grinnell. They want to ensure this safety by working with the police department and with campus safety. Castro also mentioned the importance of being accepted by the greater Grinnell community as Grinnellians, not just as the “students of color of the College.”

“There’s so many people out there who can go through whatever time they spend at Grinnell and never understand or be confronted with the realities that their fellow students are facing,” Castro said.

Million Hoodies meets every weekend at the Black Cultural Center. The meetings are a time and space for the members to create both a community and a safe space which focuses on their similarity in culture and heritage. They check in on each other’s well-being, talk about current political events happening in the world as well as on campus and work on campaign ideas.

These meetings are open to members of the organization and other students of color who are interested. The leaders stated that whenever they do action, they will want anyone at all who is interested to go and support them, but it is important that they run their activism.

“Million Hoodies is a curated space for black and brown students specifically to have a refuge from the predominantly white social activism of Grinnell [College],” Davis said.

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