Note: The views expressed here are the writer’s and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia. 

By Stephanie Youngera black student, aspiring computer programmer, poet, writer and a Central Virginia based activist.

I've had quite a year.

When I was 15, I contributed writings to Black Youth Project and Afropunk about how Angela Davis inspired me to create a project to raise awareness about how the school-to-prison pipeline affects black girls and women. I read the article to activists and community members and spoke at “Virginia Prison Reform Rally.”

I also delivered a speech at a March For Our Lives demonstration in Richmond about the significance listening to black youth in the fight for gun reform, where I was then offered the opportunity to contribute to the ACLU of Virginia’s blog to share my thoughts on youth prison reform, racial justice and intersectional feminism.

Then, I was invited to attend the ACLU National Conference, which coincided with my birthday. Instead of throwing a traditional sweet 16, I asked my parents if I could attend the conference in mid-June Washington D.C. The conference did not disappoint. The atmosphere was electric. This year’s theme “You Belong Here” was extended throughout the conference. Young activists from all walks of life gathered for learning, mobilization and inspiration. In the “Story ooth,” I shared my perspective on how I became an ACLU supporter.

The most memorable part of the Conference was the dinner gala where I met two women I admire: Cecile Richards and Patrisse Cullors. Ms. Richards was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, and Ms. Cullors received the Next Generation Award.

When I met Ms. Richards, she thanked me for attending the Conference, and I thanked her for uplifting Black women who fortify our movements every day yet often don’t get the attention they deserve.

“All across the country, the Women’s March inspired doctors and teachers and mothers to become activists and organizers and, yes, candidates for office...Women have beaten the odds to elect our own to office...Women of color, transgender women, rural and urban women. These victories were led and made possible by women of color. So white women, listen up; We’ve got to do better...It is not up to women of color to save this country from itself. That’s on all of us.”

Cecile Richards at the 2018 Women's March

After being introduced by actor, rapper and singer Daveed Diggs, Ms. Cullors, delivered a moving award acceptance speech. As a Black girl, my activism is heavily influenced by Ms. Cullors’ advocacy for Black empowerment. My feminism and my Black empowerment are intersectional. My activism primarily analyzes the intersection of anti-Black racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.

“I am part of a legacy of queer black women who have fought for the freedom of black people across the globe… In high school, I came out to my friends as queer. My entire world opened up; this was a monumental step toward unveiling my truest self...I found solace in reading authors like Audre Lorde and bell hooks... their words helped me grow up and taught me how to be bold and courageous. By studying them, I came to understand that being young and queer and black would not be easy.”

Patrisse Cullors in an interview with Huffpost

As an advocate for community non-violence, Black feminism and prison reform, shaking hands with the president of Planned Parenthood, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter and founder of Dignity and Power Now is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”Assata Shakur