Not An Activist And Not A Leader

Livia Rose Johnson doesn’t want to be called an activist. 

In late May, she found herself disappointed with the lack of energy at a protest.

“So I just came to the front and started screaming at the top of my lungs,” says the 20-year-old Brooklyn’s Crown Heights native.

Another protester, Joseph Martinez, saw her enthusiasm, and asked if she wanted to “take that march somewhere else.” 

“And I was, like, yeah, sure,” she responded. “I mean, I guess.”

They led 15,000 people from 14th Street to Trump Tower at East 57th and 5th Avenue, and then to Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

Later that night, Joseph messaged Livia asking whether she wanted to create a group chat, include other organizers, and coordinate future marches. They called themselves Warriors in the Garden. 

“It was a joke,” Livia says. “Like a spy, you know, like how spies have codenames.”

Thirty thousand people came to their first march in early June. And Livia’s life has been going “100 miles per hour” since then.

A neuromarketing major at Sarah Lawrence College, she is now trying to figure out how to capture her generation’s eight-second attention span with new mini-series, pictures, videos, and social media posts. 

For Black people, her message is not to lose hope.

“Just remember, this is a movement, not a moment,” Livia says. “It’s gonna take more than just a legislative reformation to get legitimate justice. It’s going to take rewiring.”

She wants money shifted to Black communities for education, business opportunities, and mental health. She also advocates for defunding and retraining the police.

“It takes longer to become a yoga instructor than a policeman,” she says. 

During the protests, Livia saw the Black community united like never before, and she hopes it stays that way. 

In her message for white people, she wants them to be aware of the four-hundred-year-old anger that Black people have carried through generations.

“It’s much deeper than they can ever perceive,” she says. 

There are three kinds of allies, or white people who join Black people in fighting injustice, she says. One are those who are still there when cameras are off and protect and amplify the Black community. Two are those who show support because they want to be accepted by the black community and get special privileges. And, three, those who “are doing this to Band-Aid their white guilt.”

“And I want white people to really realize, to really understand, which one of those they are and see how they can be a better ally,” Livia says.

The reason why she doesn’t want to be called an activist is that the label is “divisive and it discourages people to get involved,” she says.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of people who care exactly as much as me, but they’re discouraged to be as active as me just because they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m not an activist,’” Livia says. “I want to show that activism can be normal, and everyone is an activist.”

Livia also doesn’t want to be called a leader.

She’d rather be recognized as part of a group of Generation Z leaders at the forefront of civil rights protests. 

But she loves to lead. 

“I think it’s very spiritual,” Livia says. “When we protest, our spirits are mixed together, and the more there are dedicated and genuinely passionate souls, the more we will be able to change.”

Warriors in the Garden now have subgroups responsible for event planning, legislation, education, communications, arts, and public relations, based on the skillsets of its members. Livia is the group’s vice president.  

“I’m really proud of her,” says Kiara Williams, 20, who is a close friend and Warriors in the Garden member. She describes Livia as really funny, nice, and caring. 

“She is so beautiful inside and out,” says a fellow protester, Aderin Sola, 18. “Together, we all, sisters, are going to inspire global change.” 

Cherish Petton, 18, who runs The Descendants, a group similar to Warriors in the Garden, says that, just like her, Livia benefits from being a light-skinned Black woman, which gives her ”a platform before anyone else.” 

“So we’re using that platform to make sure the voices of our dark-skinned counterparts are being heard,” Cherish says. “To make sure that we’re fighting for our people.”

Livia says she also feels her lighter skin tone is the reason why the press has been drawn more to her than to darker-skinned women in the group. 

“I just want to acknowledge that there is colorism in media,” she says. “I do want people to know that I’m aware of it.”

Before the protests, Livia used a “cover,” or pseudonym, Aka Rojo Shawty to publish her poetry and music on social media. 

“I didn’t publicly speak before, so the protests really brought me out of my shell,” she says. 

Her engagement in the protests cost her a job and equity in a music distribution company, where she worked in marketing. 

“They wanted me to prioritize the job, and I couldn’t do it when my people are dying,” says Livia, who launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay the bills. “But I’m kind of happy I lost it just because now I can put my 100 percent into Warriors in the Garden, my community.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/aleksandramichalska/2020/08/01/not-an-activist-and-not-a-leaderlivia-rose-johnson-talks-about-engaging-gen-z-in-fight-for-justice/