How Organizing Saved My Life: My Road to Racial Healing - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

How Organizing Saved My Life: My Road to Racial Healing

By Chris Bufford, Campaign Strategist

I was 14 years old when I learned first-hand how the existence of Black youth is criminalized.

I was walking home late at night and a police officer pulled up alongside of me. He asked me where I was headed. I told him, “I’m heading home from a friend's house.”

He continued to follow me down the street, watching me from his car. It made me nervous. Had I done something wrong? Did I fit the description of a suspect? Was he going to stop me for curfew? After about half a block I asked, “Don't you have some criminals to go catch?”

For the last 12 years, I have used organizing as an outlet for my pain and anger. I use my disappointment with the education system to fuel me to fight for counselors, not cops.

His response would forever change my perception of the police, and the world for that matter.

“You are the criminal,” he responded. In that moment, that officer let me know that I was a criminal even though I hadn’t done anything. To him, my existence was criminal. I was a super predator egg waiting to hatch.

That is where it all started. I believed this adult and that he knew better than I did of what I would become. And honestly, when I looked around, he seemed accurate. I had multiple family members who were involved in illegal activity and my friends had similar stories in their families. My neighborhood was constantly patrolled by police, so there must be a lot of crime, right?

Maybe I am a criminal and that is all I will ever be.

This FALSE realization set the wheels in motion for me to pursue a different kind of education. An education where I wouldn't graduate from high school to go on to college, but I would graduate from juvenile court to adult court. I would not graduate with a Bachelors in the Arts that would help me get a good job, but with two felony convictions that would prevent me from getting a job.

This is how Black youth are criminalized just for existing. Our communities are over saturated by police officers with state-of-the-art technology and weaponry, while our teachers struggle to provide quality education for their overcrowded classrooms. Elected officials continue to invest in policing strategies to reduce crime and violence when studies show that investing in education, jobs, housing, and healthcare are the real solutions. As a young Black person, witnessing this play out left me feeling powerless. I believed the world didn't value my life or the lives of my people.

Then, after high school, my eyes were opened to the truth. I learned about the history of oppression and the ways it shows up in this world. Some friends of mine were organizing to close the juvenile detention center where I had been a resident on a couple of occasions. This campaign introduced me to organizing and the power that we have to make change in this world. I learned about the school-to-prison pipeline, criminalization, human rights and the various forms of systemic oppression in the United States.

For the last 12 years, I have used organizing as an outlet for my pain and anger. I use my disappointment with the education system to fuel me to fight for counselors, not cops. I channel the trauma of being violently evicted from my home by county sheriffs into fighting for housing as a human right. I use my experience of not being able to find a job as a felon into work around “banning the box” on job applications. Most recently, I supported New Georgia Project an Atlanta-based voter engagement nonprofit, with voter protection efforts, so that people who look like me we can vote officials into office who will invest resources where they are needed the most.

Organizing literally saved my life. It not only gave me answers to questions that plagued me throughout my life, but it gave me a vehicle to express my hurt in a healthy way—and for that I am forever committed to being an organizer.

chris bufford

Chris Bufford is a Campaign Strategist with Advancement Project National Office and has organized for over a decade in Black communities.

KEEP READING

Healing Communities of Color Beyond Wellness

By Flavia Jimenez, Managing Director of Organizational Development & Leadership We are our only relevant hope We are our only possible medicine –what is unveiled? the founding wound  by Adrienne Maree Brown When organizations discuss plans to address the impact that systemic racism and the violence of white supremacy have on staff, we often lack the language to openly discuss viable options. Perhaps it is because the wounds are too deep and too raw. Where do we even begin to bring a framework to folks who live and work with the pain? What do we do about…

Read More
Leading Civil Rights & Racial Justice Organizations Observe the National Day of Racial Healing

Leading racial equity organizations will pause to participate in the 5th Annual W.K. Kellogg National Day of Racial Healing (#NDORH) on January 19, 2020.

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Applauds Nomination of Civil Rights Leaders to Biden-Harris U.S. Department of Justice

“Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke are formative civil rights leaders with decades of experience fighting discrimination, ensuring equity and safeguarding all Americans."

Read More
Voting in the 2020 Election

We know that voting is an important way to advance our fight against systemic racism. But the ongoing pandemic has created significant challenges in getting out the vote—challenges made even worse by opportunistic and racist government officials who are leveraging this crisis to make voting more complicated and less accessible to Black and Brown people. That’s where you come in. Voters need help understanding how to vote during a pandemic. Here you can find: Scripts to make online videos Memes and gifs to share on social media Messaging guides GOTV Graphics Videos to share…

Read More
Advance The Ball

Stand Up and VOTE Advancement Project National Office and the Washington Football Team are working together to advance racial justice and equality in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. By encouraging civic engagement and providing mutual aid, we can help to build the power of Black and Brown communities. Together, we’re giving the DMV a playbook for making their vote count. Voter education is particularly important this year, when so many people will be voting by mail for the first time. The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, October 13 in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia. Go to…

Read More
Civil Rights Organizations Debunk Myths of No COVID-19 Cases in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

Impacted people behind bars share harrowing stories of coronavirus outbreaks, unsanitary conditions Baton Rouge, LA – Last night, several civil rights and racial justice organizations pushed back on efforts by the Sheriff and Warden of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to silence the detainees trapped inside the facility and to hide from community members and taxpayers what the organizations say is really happening in the jail.  The Sheriff and Warden, defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the advocates, claim that the jail has the coronavirus pandemic under control, but the plaintiffs and…

Read More
Women Did That! 100 Years of the 19th Amendment

One hundred years ago today, the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote was ratified. Women’s suffrage was a century-long fight achieved through protest, advocacy and the legendary work of trailblazing women of color including Sojourner Truth, Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells. These women organized to combat racist policies, elect people of color to public office and create community institutions that provided mutual aid to their communities. Today, the nation cannot deny that women of color are a “…

Read More
Map the Truth Coronavirus Social Justice Guide & Webinar

Advancement Project National Office along with our national allies Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Can’t Stop! Won’t Stop! Consulting, Demos, and The Opportunity Agenda have released Map the Truth, a COVID-19/Coronavirus Social Justice Guide. This guide is a reflection of the love, unity and uplifting positivity that we collectively aim to spread amongst all impacted communities. Now, with the continuing threat of this global pandemic, that truth has become more important than ever. Collectively, we proudly commit this social justice guide to be a beacon of truth that helps uplift and support directly impacted communities to…

Read More