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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Bakari Sellers encourages social change through youth-led politics

Kennedy Political Union welcomed the former South Carolina state representative to celebrate Black History Month

Author, politician, lawyer and entrepreneur Bakari Sellers shared his political activism experience at an event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union on Thursday. Moderated by School of Communication professor Whitney Harris Christopher, the conversation highlighted Sellers’ work and encouraged young people to strive for change. 

After becoming a lawyer at 20, Sellers became the youngest Black government official in the country by 2006 when he was elected to serve as a state representative for South Carolina. Along with his critically acclaimed podcast, Sellers published two New York Times best-selling books and became a political commentator for CNN in 2016. 

Sellers said much of his inspiration comes from his father’s work in the Civil Rights Movement. As a young politician in South Carolina, Sellers said his policy decisions and initiatives were shaped by his father’s story as an activist. 

“My dad was one of the people who helped start a small fledgling civil rights organization called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,” Sellers said at the event. “That helped shape my upbringing, understanding that I don’t necessarily have to read about civil rights history.” 

Sellers said the environment he grew up in also shaped his experiences as a young Black man from the South, as he felt that he had to try harder than those around him to gain the same amount of respect. 

“I was young, Black, a Democrat, and I was a young Black Democrat in South Carolina, and that was tough in itself,” Sellers said. “I had to be that much more prepared than anybody else that was sitting in those chairs with me, and it was a very intense environment.”  

Although Sellers said he stood out from other politicians because of his age, he never acted in any way to change who he was. Sellers said he advises young people to bring their authentic selves to every conversation. 

“You have to bring your full self to the table,” Sellers said. “It’s very difficult when you try to be somebody else, and there’s no inherent value in you being somebody else.”

Coming from a traditionally conservative area, Sellers said he never doubted that he was deserving of the recognition he received for his accomplishments, adding that the criticism he received at the beginning of his career only motivated him. 

“I always felt like I belonged,” Sellers said. “The question was ‘How do I prepare myself to be the most articulate person about these issues?’ and that required me to build habits.” 

He said he incorporates these habits into his daily routine, including checking the news regularly. According to Sellers, every individual is responsible for staying fully informed using accurate and unbiased information. 

“It’s your job to sort through what you find to be credible,” Sellers said. “There is a certain level of individual responsibility you must have with the media today because there is so much misinformation and disinformation.” 

Sellers said he advises members of Gen Z to stay informed so they can continue to actively participate in important conversations. He added that Gen Z’s passion for social activism makes him optimistic for future changes. 

“The perseverance they’ve displayed and the grace that they require to be able to live through generations of trauma in decades is indicative of the hope we should have,” Sellers said. 

Sellers left students with one last reminder. 

“Love and justice, those are action items, and you have to order your steps and be able to articulate what [they are],” Sellers said. “Whether or not it's in the court of law or the general assembly or it’s through your active protests, that is what justice is.”

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Zoe Bell, Abigail Turner and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Luna Jinks, Isabelle Kravis, Isabelle Kravis and Olivia Citarella.

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