This story is part of the 2020 Project, a special men’s health project that examines the lives of 20 different 20-year-old men across America. To learn more about the others, click here.
AS A CHILD Righteous Keitt grew up in South Carolina and grew up when police were killed on camera. “Since I was nine years old I can remember how black people were filmed on camera and those videos went viral and then nothing happened,” he told a television news team earlier this summer after another horrific murder – the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers captured by bystanders and then shared on social media to add vital fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We need radical changes,”
Keitt is a political scientist and political scientist at UNC Chapel Hill. That he’s figured out how to get his own message across – over the air, on social media, and even on public forums, leading to political change – shows that the young activist has internalized some of the lessons learned from the last half century of civil rights movements and adjusts them in new ways to urge change urgently.
It starts with building a coalition. Keitt is a member of Black Men United, a campus group that can generate hundreds of supporters for nonviolent marches and protests. For years he has been building other allies through leadership groups such as GenerationNation’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Youth Council.
It’s also about a little ingenuity. Realizing that some people might use clutter to their advantage during the Charlotte protests, he printed signs with a crown and the message that this is a black-owned business to deter looters from hitting (and briefing) some local businesses then the news team to spread the word).
When, despite his best efforts, a local jewelry store was robbed, he launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $ 15,000 to cover the losses. But the most important thing to remember is that every act is just that – an act. “Every person’s job is to make sure they’re helping as much as possible, and not just posting things for the few likes, right?”
And the result is a ripple effect. This summer, Keitt ran a Black Lives Matter rally with Black Men United in Charlotte’s Marshall Park. Through a megaphone he sang, “All lives cannot matter until black lives matter!” Another day he appeared on a podium alongside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief and other local activists and encouraged the police to devalue them. He shares all of this on Instagram. “I’m trying to use the platforms I’ve been given to let other people know that these are the things that need to be changed.”
As he grew up, Keitt had to change his mind. He was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, also known as Football City USA, where NFL greats like Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Gilmore originated. His father went to jail before he was born, and his stepfather helped his mother raise him. For years, Keitt was convinced that he had to play football to get ahead, even if he had repeatedly failed to form the team. “I come from this background. . . When you’re black, you have very limited options in what to do, ”he says.
His family had moved to Charlotte when he was a freshman in high school, and when Keitt broke his wrist he had to stop playing altogether. But while he was sitting around the house his mother asked him a question: “Are you doing your part?” It was her way of suggesting that he help at home, but as time went on, Keitt realized that many of the people around him needed a hand. As a sophomore, he saved his money to start a nonprofit, Bags 4 Bagless, that donates toiletries in lightweight backpacks to the homeless. These efforts continue to distribute a few hundred bags locally each year.
Earlier this year, Charlotte police used tear gas against protesters. Under public pressure from Keitt and others, the city council blocked the funding of the chemical agents department. It’s a start, but Keitt has a lot more reforms in mind – to address housing practices, gerrymandering, and the need to stabilize communities. He hopes his generation will take steps to secure their own place in the halls of power.
“I just want to change where we are because it has to happen,” he says. “My goal is for it to only spread. Even if I’m not the one making the change, you know, hopefully someone on the street, whether it’s five or fifty years, is actively making that push. “
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