Featured Organizer
Featured Organizer: Indigo of Black Organizing Project in Oakland, California

Organizing is like love: Indigo’s journey to organizing and BOP

I got involved with Black Organizing Project (BOP) basically by being organized. I’ve been a member since I was about 10 years old. My dad and I were invited to a listening session. At BOP we use them as spaces to bring folks together and have them speak around and discuss certain issues. “Okay, how are Black folks in Oakland feeling? What are we seeing in our communities?” “What should we be doing about it?” They’re all here just because they wanna talk around this thing. That’s very like, “Wow! This is amazing.”

This was the first space I’ve seen this happen in. Before this, my dad would teach me about the Black Panthers, and tell me these things about the government, and tell me my experience as a Black person is different and I have to navigate things differently. But I never got to see it with my own eyes, and then to see it happen or see other folks doing it besides my dad was very different for me, but in a good way. I enjoyed it, and I wanted to keep coming back.

And my dad is super cool and was just like, “How did you feel about that space? Did you like it? Do you think this is something we should keep doing?” And of course, I said, “Yeah, I love it. I think we should go to the next one.” And that’s exactly what we did. We just never stopped going. He was like, “No, come into the room. You wanna learn what’s happening, this is what’s going on.” At BOP, they gave me the opportunity to even engage then when I was 10 years old. To make me feel like I actually was a member and not just my dad’s child who’s there while he’s doing things.

And then seeing BOP led by specifically Black women has been inspirational. Working with the organization that’s predominantly Black women led has been amazing. I think that is a huge reason of why I am the way I am today. We all know Black women bring a different energy to wherever we step in. I also think it brings that motherly vibe when we’re doing the work, which is a very missed important piece of organizing sometimes – how important is it to look at this work from a motherly perspective, that folks need to be nurtured.

Words can’t describe how I feel about organizing, probably because it’s like love, and I think that’s what it is, too. My thing was always my people and wanting to work with my people. And just the unspoken energy around it. I love this so much, I don’t wanna ever do anything else. 

They don’t see any humanity: Indigo’s educational experience in Oakland

I went to a charter school which is a very, very, very predominantly white school. Reason being my parents, who are both Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) alum from kindergarten all the way to elementary, high school, felt like OUSD was not a safe space for me to go to school.

But I was definitely targeted at this predominantly white school, even just by the security officers. Them constantly think I’m smoking weed for some strange reason. I’ve never, I’ve literally didn’t, never… Still don’t smoke. But then they’re always tell me I’m high, I need to watch out. Them always giving me detention for being late to class. Just little things that I had to deal with being a Black student in a predominantly white school.

At my school, when the football team or just young men would be doing things they probably shouldn’t, “Oh, they’re just young, we’ll give you another chance, you can still stay here, we’re not gonna suspend you ’cause you have a game on Friday.” When these things happen on OUSD campuses, “No, you’re expelled, this should not have happened, I don’t understand why you’re doing this, your grades are already bad.” So more intense. I think the reason why there is a whole police department dedicated to students within OUSD is because the way they literally look at the students and see criminals. I think the reason why there’s a whole police system within OUSD is because they don’t see any humanity when they look at the students.

When I think about how a lot of people see young Black and Brown students as criminals, I’ve come a long way in my understanding of non-Black people’s or racist people’s views of me and my people. At first, I would have been angry and upset and all these things, but now I’m realizing, no, you’re just really out of touch. You don’t know me, you don’t know my experience. You don’t know how great I am clearly. You don’t know how amazing Black students are. You don’t know how smart Black students are.

It just makes me realize how out of touch some people are and how ignorant some people are because like I said, nobody is fighting or screaming and yelling or having outbursts because they want to, we simply just don’t know how to communicate sometimes, and really just need help and somebody to talk to us. I guess that’s what comes to my mind when you tell me I’m a criminal, I think you don’t look at me as human. So, you’re telling me I’m not even human to you and I don’t even deserve basic humanity.

Police do not protect people: Indigo’s organizing for Police Free Schools

Yes, we’re eliminating the school police, but if we’re really a police free school, there should be no police touching our campus. When we’re thinking about it in that way, it calls for people to even look further and checking around like, “Okay, why are we even calling the police?”

Police free schools eventually looks more community-based, it looks like you touching in, calling in people and seeing what they wanna do around these issues. When people are fighting each other or people have mental health crisis, police free schools calls for people to intentionally think about how are we reacting to these things, instead of just dialing 911 and calling the police. What are the actual resources we have in place that our students can feel comfortable being a part of and participating in when they don’t feel safe or when they’re dealing with other things?

Police free schools, there is way more to it than just no more police. When we see police in our schools, or even anywhere to be honest, they are the root of the problem. Even if we were to eliminate police within schools, or when we do, we see things eliminate, things change. People now want to engage and walk happily down the hallway. They’re not fearing seeing a blue outfit or a cop. It’s a whole different energy. Police do not protect people because if they did, when they were there, people wouldn’t feel unsafe, people wouldn’t be dying.

Who’s Got Next? Indigo’s reflections on the George Floyd resolution and the work ahead

When the George Floyd resolution passed last year, we actually had a watch party, as COVID-safe as we could. We had the school board meeting on a little screen on the outside, and we were all watching it together. And they voted on it, and it passed, and it was very, very surreal, like, “What? Okay, what? That really happened? This is crazy. Like, what?” We had members there from when I first started to members who just joined two or three months ago. Just feeling all of that energy from all the folks who have stepped in over the years, I could just feel it really felt like a collective win, like, “Wow, so many people have had a hand in this and we finally did it.” It was an amazing feeling, and it even took like a minute, as in a couple of days, maybe even like a week or two, for it to set in like, “Dang, that actually happened! Dang, we actually did that! Dang, this has never been done before over here, what the heck?”

But even after the win, the work doesn’t stop. So now that we’ve eliminated the Oakland School Police Department, it’s time to think about what does the implementation phase look like? Because, yes, we can eliminate school police, but they can still call the police department. They could still do all these harmful things to our students. Now that there’s no more police within school, so now it’s time for us to look at, “Okay, what do we need to put in our schools to make sure our students are actually safe?”

To the folks who are saying “We got next,” to the young folks specifically, and throughout the nation who are doing this work and know their win is coming to them, I would just say to keep going. Remember this fight doesn’t happen overnight, we’re not gonna win overnight. It took us 10 years to win this campaign. This is a life-long commitment when you step into organizing specifically around issues like abolition. This is a lifelong fight and realize every little thing you’re doing, every little thing you’re saying, every little piece of the movement you’re playing in, it means something, and it’s the reason you’re doing it.

Students are the experts of their own stories: Indigo on the impact of BOP

It’s important for students, specifically Black and Brown students to be involved in the police free schools movement because it’s their experience. This is their story. They’re the experts on this topic. I want folks to understand that your story is important. I would really urge folks to find their space that they really love, and if you can’t find one, that might mean you need to create it. Reach out to other folks who you think may wanna be in something like that, and you create this space for folks to be in.

Anybody who knows me outside of the organizing world, I am the least social person ever. I do not like talking to new people. I am a very anti-social person. But if I’ve got a clipboard in my hand, I’m going knocking on every door. If I need to speak at this rally and tell them to come out to this upcoming event, I’m the first one to hop up there and speak for as long as I need to speak.

Black Organizing Project (BOP) has been so influential on my journey. When I think about it, they’ve really been organizing me from an early age. I am the way I am today is because I did have BOP behind me. They’ve always validated how I felt and what I said. There was always relationship-building with me, they’ve gave me a lot of role models to look up to. They’ve always uplifted me as a community should. Uplifted me and my ideas and views. They never once hesitated to let me say what I feel or hesitated to let me be the one to speak. And they really helped me a lot to boost my confidence from an early age. I love BOP so much ’cause they really taught me that I can really do anything I wanna do.