They began as six names in a group text message.
The text thread was started by Tay Woods, who at the time was a senior at Brunswick High School. She’d been reading news coverage of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man pursued in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick by three White men before being shot by Travis McMichael.
Protests in the neighborhood and around Glynn County followed the release of video footage of the pursuit and shooting. Arbery’s name became a hashtag on social media, and Woods felt compelled to begin speaking out as well.
“It woke me up a little bit,” she said.
The six voices in her group text message soon grew into a louder chorus of more than 100 youth activists who now form the organization YOUth Speak Justice, which Woods founded.
The group’s goal is to promote the involvement of youth in the fight against injustice.
“We encourage cross-cultural participation, innovative activism and unification,” according to the group’s mission statement. “We ultimately strive to eliminate systematic racism and disintegrate cultural barriers.”
The group is meant to be a platform young people can use to speak up about social justice issues, Woods said. While most members reside in Glynn County, the group is open to members outside the community.
“When I’m asked why teens and young people should have a voice in policy, society, etc., my answer is simple — why wouldn’t we?” said Abby Rasmussen, one of the group’s first members.
She serves as finance director for the organization and co-chair of its media committee.
“It may sound cliché, but youth are the future of this country,” Rasmussen said.
Today’s youth have grown up in a world with internet access and globalized communications, she said, and many have had their eyes opened to the systematic injustice at a young age.
“Every young person I speak to or volunteer with has a unique story and these unique backgrounds (that) if bound together can create a wonderful, peaceful and productive society,” she said.
So far, YOUth Speak Justice members have participated in and hosted protests and demonstrations in Glynn County demanding justice for Arbery and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. They’ve also volunteered at the African American Cultural Center, which is in the process now of opening on Albany Street in Brunswick.
A project in the works now is a mural initiative that will spread calls for social justice throughout the community, Woods said. Mayah Groover, who serves as visual arts chair for the group, said she hopes the murals express how youth in the community feel.
Art is yet another way for youth to speak up, she said.
“I feel as though silence is complicity, and if you sit down in silence your voice will never be heard,” Groover said. “As youth, we are the future, we are our advocates, so you can either stand and be heard or sit and be silenced.”
The group recently hosted a voter registration drive organized by member Shaheim Johnson, who said he feels it’s important that young people who are old enough to vote make their voices heard at the ballot box.
“We just want to get youth involved in the election process and the government affairs of Glynn County, the state of Georgia and the United States of America, no matter the political affiliation,” he said.
Woods plans to attend the University of Georgia in the fall and major in psychology. She intends to start a club with the same mission at the university.
She said she will also ensure students at Brunswick High and Glynn Academy are ready to continue YOUth Speak Justice’s work locally.
Before forming the group, she didn’t have any kind of platform to make her voice heard. She knows many youth share her passion to create change.
“The whole world is trying to come together and tackle this issue,” she said.