FAIRFAX, Va. - A young activist who sparked demonstrations at George Mason University is fiercely leading the charge toward more equality for minority groups.
Kalia Harris calls Virginia home and said that her push for equality started well before she began attending the university in Fairfax. Harris said her parents moved her family out of the city to attend better schools, but for Harris and her brother, it meant attending schools with fewer black students.
Harris said she attempted to start a black student union at her high school and was met with push back.
“We faced a lot of push back from that,” Harris explained. “It was just the first time I had experienced any kind of push back in any way for being proud to be black.”
Instead of breaking her, it strengthened Harris and gave her a passion and focus. In the wake of killings that sparked racial tensions in the U.S., such as the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland, Harris said she was ready to act.
“For me it was kind of just a catalyst moment,” Harris said. “I’m looking at the news and there's another black man or woman shot on the news and honestly I just got mad and I got fed up and I got tired.”
But Harris noticed it was about more than the black community. Harris said she noticed undocumented Hispanic students, low-income students and previously incarcerated students were all struggling. She said the need to have those voices included in the conversation became painfully clear.
“I don't think you just look away from that and pretend that it's not happening,” Harris stated. “We all kind of banded together and noticed that our struggles were similar.”
And change began to spark from those conversations.
“We created a fund at Mason that was a $1 million fund for students to apply to if they were having trouble with their tuition costs,” Harris explained.
The groups supported each other and Harris began to push for change in bigger political arenas. Much like what's happening with students pushing for change now, she said they have to keep pushing.
“I think the most dope people out there right now are our young people in high schools who are doing this work, who are standing up against classmates, teachers, resource officers whatever that is to make their voices heard,” she said.
And if the message is accepted, Harris said that would be great, but she noted that wasn’t the main goal.
“The most meaningful lesson I've learned as a black millennial, fem activist is that we have to make our voices heard and if that means taking the mic and ripping it out of someone's hand to be heard, then do it,” Harris said. “For me, if this message gets out there and it's not in the main stream and people aren't all agreeing with me I hope it (at least) sparks a dialogue.”
Harris is hoping her spark and legacy will inspire others to continue making paths toward changes for everyone.