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Ask an Activist: Bree Newsome
Think of a time when you experienced an incident that stuck with you, that moved you, or troubled you. Perhaps you saw someone being treated unfairly. You disagreed with laws that denied someone the right to vote. You noticed garbage in your neighborhood piling up. And you thought, “I should do something!” Many of us have these thoughts, yet we don't take action. Fortunately, there are some rising stars among us who are passionate about issues facing our community and who are taking action. They hear the call, heed the challenge, and do something!
For several weeks over this summer, we will profile youth activists in the Charlotte area who have turned their passion into action. These young people are making an impact across areas including environmentalism, education, LGBTQ, voting, and community. They are “being the change, they want to see.”
We invite you to learn about and be inspired by these individuals and their work.
Meet Bree Newsome, Activist, Speaker
What first inspired you to become an activist?
I’ve always been passionate about issues of inequality and justice. Throughout my childhood, my parents were both educators. My mother’s work centered on closing the achievement gap for black children, poor children and children from homes where English was not the primary language. So I was exposed to these issues when I was a child; and in retrospect I suppose it influenced me more deeply than I realized at the time. While I always cared about these issues, I didn’t truly become an activist until two years ago. It was the attack on voting rights in North Carolina that “activated” me and I moved from being a sideline supporter to an activist. Photo Credit: Scott Clark King
In July of 2013 you were arrested for protesting against voter suppression at the NC State Capitol. Why was this protest so important to you?
For one, I believe strongly in democracy so any attempt to limit voting rights highly offends my sensibilities. Also, the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the NC legislature’s voter suppression laws coincided with the Trayvon Martin case. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in combination with the attack on voting rights shook my consciousness. Whatever progress had been made since the civil rights movement of the ‘60s seemed to be quickly rolling backwards and I felt that I had perhaps taken my rights for granted.
The other reason I felt it necessary to participate in that particular protest was because it was apparent to me that the legislator was attempting to pass this odious voter suppression bill under the radar of the public and national media. At that time, the US Attorney General’s office had announced it would examine voter ID laws in Texas but North Carolina was largely being overlooked by the nation. It was necessary to draw attention to what was happening in our state.
If you could change one law in the state of NC right now, what would it be and why?
I disagree with laws that bar citizens from voting due to a felony conviction. To begin with, the law is unequally applied. The over-policing and criminalization of poor communities and communities of color ensures that [those within the same community] will be disproportionately disenfranchised by such voting laws. In a time when money is flooding elections and further corrupting the democratic process, these laws become just another measure of limiting political access for certain populations. [Civil rights lawyer and author] Michelle Alexander describes it [in her book] as “The New Jim Crow,” and I agree.
You are currently working on an EP. What is the inspiration behind your new music?
Right now, I have a single out called "Stay Strong: A Love Song to Freedom Fighters." It's available to download for free at soundcloud.com/breenewsome. I wrote it as an encouragement to those in the movement to keep up the fight. I'll be shooting a music video for it in Charlotte next month.
About Bree Newsome
A staunch advocate for human rights and social justice, Newsome was arrested last year during a sit-in at the North Carolina State Capitol where she spoke out against the state’s recent attack on voting rights. She continues to work as an activist and youth organizer in North Carolina, serving in the capacity of Western Field Organizer for the youth-led organization Ignite NC.
Newsome is a graduate of New York University's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts where she received a BFA in Film & Television.Based on her work as an undergraduate student at New York University, Newsome was invited in 2011 to serve as the first ever Artist-in-Residence at Saatchi & Saatchi, a global creative communications and advertising company headquartered in New York.Newsome's short film WAKE won a slew of awards on the film festival circuit and recently made its national television debut on the ASPIREtv network. She is also a musician and performs as front-woman for the Charlotte-based funk band POWERHOUSE.