Since May 2020, youth organizers across the country have been mobilizing against police brutality and working for systemic change in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Some of them had organized for social justice before, but many of them took to the streets for the first time and without an organized plan. Across Instagram posts, Zoom calls and iMessages, these youth organizers used social media to launch some of the largest Black Lives Matter protests in the country. In the fourth episode of Rolling Stone’s “Youth Organizers” video series, we take a look at Gorham, Maine and the youth-led work being done by Gorham Anti-Racism Development.
Mariam Beshir, 18, is one of the co-founders of Gorham Anti-Racism Development (GARD) alongside Kristi Grand, Tatiana Jonk, Kyle Ouillette, and Anas Beshir. The group formed the week before Mariam’s high school graduation: “Before my graduation, I realized that Tamir Rice would’ve graduated this year,” Mariam Beshir explains. “I felt an obligation to organize this protest in his honor.”
Rolling Stone: How has the town of Gorham responded to the Black Lives Matter movement?
Mariam Beshir: It’s a majority white town, so this is definitely providing new perspectives to people in this town. Gorham isn’t the perfect town that a lot of its white residents think it is. After the death of George Floyd, we realized that we need to work on creating a safe space for Black people and all people of color in general.
What inspired you to get involved?
Beshir: What inspired me were the people who were organizing these protests on a larger scale, like the ones in Minnesota and Oregon. I realized that I can’t just sit idly by — I need to do my part. As a Black Muslim, it was my role and place to step in and bring this to our town.
When did you decide to organize your first protest?
Beshir: My graduation was three days before the protest. Before my graduation, I realized that Tamir Rice would’ve graduated this year. And that it wasn’t only his parents that wouldn’t get to see their Black sons or Black daughters walking across the stage to get their diploma. I felt an obligation to organize a protest in his honor. And in honor of all of the other Black mothers and fathers who aren’t able to see their children walk across the stage.
And how did you feel when you realized the protest was a success?
Beshir: It felt amazing. It felt like the work that I had done wasn’t wasted. It sparked conversations and got people’s attention. And reminded me that this isn’t it. I can’t just organize a protest and think I’ve done what I need to do. I need to keep on doing this.
How do you find the energy to continue doing this work?
Beshir: What helps me to organize and lead are the Black women that came before me. There was never a time in history when a Black woman wasn’t leading. I listen to speeches of people leading the civil rights movement to remind myself that this has been done before and if it’s been done before by someone like me then I can definitely do it again.
What’s next for you?
Beshir: Aside from organizing protests and creating GARD, I’ve also been working with Portland Empowered on a project called Reimagine Education. This project was created to obviously reimagine education, but to also address the performative activism within schools along with the counter-productive curriculums that are being taught in the Portland Public Schools as well as neighboring school districts. Youths from southern Maine are meeting with organizers from Portland Empowered to hold multiple meetings in which we draft policies and changes regarding creating an anti-racist, yet multicultural enviroment within schools.
Find more information on Gorham Anti-Racism Development here.