This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tiana Day is the founder of Youth Advocates for Change
Tiana, thank you so much for joining us today. Tell us about yourself!
My name is Tiana Day. I'm 19 years old, and I’m the founder of Youth Advocates for Change, a nonprofit that amplifies voices through intersectional social justice issues and media. We bridge student passions and creative talents with social justice to inspire young people to get involved in service in unconventional ways.
What was the driving force behind creating youth advocates for change? Can you recall a specific time or memory that sparked your interest in the work you do now?
I went to a high school that had no representation for Black students. My peers would just throw around the N-word. I didn't think anything of it because I was like, “Okay, kids are kids.” I didn't confront others, because it made me uncomfortable to put people in their place.
I never really said anything, until I saw how many young people were getting involved with the Black Lives Matter movement. And suddenly, all of my very ignorant classmates were posting black posts on Instagram and saying that Black Lives Matter and donating to the cause.
They were so oblivious to what they were doing through their words and actions previously, and just started posting on social media –– butfor me, it wasn't a trend.I've had family members who have been impacted by the system, I've been racially profiled, and my family's been racially profiled in this specific community.
So, I just started calling people out on Twitter by name. There were a bunch of screenshots of texts, Snapchat videos from private stories, and Instagram posts with evidence that people were sending to me. Growing up, my community members would preach that racism doesn’t exist in our community, but I saw and felt the opposite.
Posting about it on Twitter started a conversation in the community, and I got a lot of hate for it. I had a college scholarship at the time, and people called my school and said, “Don’t let her go to this school, she doesn’t deserve to go there, she’s tearing up our community.”
Suddenly, I was the bully when I finally spoke up. But it gave me more passion and motivation to keep going.
From there, I spoke at a protest with 4,000 community members and helped organize a protest across the Golden Gate Bridge with over 50,000 members.
Looking back, what’s your take on canceling people? And what are any lessons learned from that instance?
I think the approach I took on Twitter when I started came off a little hostile. But I was really pissed off. People who I grew up with — people who felt like family — had said the most disgusting, blatantly racist things.
If I could go back and change something, maybe I would word the first tweet differently. I wasn't intending to cancel the people I was posting about. I may have started it, but I received hundreds of submissions from other people, too. And it ended up changing a lot of things. Now, I'm working with the school board––people are more educated, and people run for school office with platforms that include racial justice.
That thread was built up in rage. But in the end, it became such a healing thing for the community.
So now tell me your approach to continuing the work that you started to do. Members of Gen Z are known to be advocates for social issues, but how do you inspire youth to not just speak up but to also take action?
I realized that people want to be a part of things that will influence their futures.I leave it to people who work with us in the organization to make up their own rules. That freedom is really important for young people. Finding things that relate to student talents and passions has been the best way to get people involved.
You talk about ‘artivism.’ Would you be able to define that?
It’s really just merging the intersection of art and activism. Whether it's poems, paintings, or literature pieces in history, you can perceive them as protest or activism. I think art is a great way to reach people, because it goes back to merging passions and talents with activism and social justice.
Would you consider activism to be public service and why?
Definitely. I think public service is bringing attention to something that the public needs. There's just an intersection when it comes to art with everything that you do, so it's my favorite way to get people involved. Having a megaphone and protesting in the street is such a mainstream way to think of activism. But there are so many other ways you can get involved with a cause and be an activist through creativity.
How has social media changed the public service landscape?
I think it's one of the best tools that Gen Z has right now.
My dad was an organizer during the Rodney King era, and my grandfather was a Black Panther. They would always talk about how they wish they had something like social media to be able to speak on a broader scale. They think we’re so lucky that we have these platforms that get our messages across so virally.
And most importantly,social media helps me maintain my narrative of what I'm trying to say.
There's a large emphasis on youth as drivers for social change. Do you think Gen Z will continue to care about advocacy as we get older?
I don’t see social justice as a trend. I think cancel culture is seen as a bad thing, but at the same time, it is holding people accountable. And when it comes to accountability, a lot of brands are realizing that's something really important to Gen Z consumers.
Gen Z, in general, just cares more about the future, because it is our future. And that's why we're taking action now. Whether that's for climate change, or diversity, equity and inclusion, there are so many things about our world that are changing because young people are the faces and at the frontlines of these big movements.
The pressure that Gen Z puts on elected officials, or the conversations that we're having with each other in terms of healing intergenerational trauma, are not things that our parents grew up talking about. So in that sense, I'm very hopeful for the future. My younger sister is 12 right now, and she'll teach me new things every day because she learns so much from TikTok. The ability to even have that space to learn is so helpful in everything that we're doing.
I'm super inspired by other young people around me. And that's really why the reason behind founding my organization is you just need to give someone the platform, the space, and the resources, and then watch what they can do with it.
Thanks Tiana, for sharing with us today.