Rashanna Lee can pinpoint at least one recent moment that served as a catalyst to build a non-profit organization dedicated to social change with Joey Moss.
“The protest in La Mesa left mental scars. To be there on my hands and knees looking up at an officer on the roof thinking don’t shoot, don’t shoot, don’t shoot,“ the 23 year old said.
The May 30 protest was part of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement that turned violent after sheriff’s deputies fired tear gas at a crowd of people.
One month later, Lee and Moss, 22, have set up a Board of Directors with seven members, gathered about 50 volunteers, and brought a handful of friends on board to develop a website and branding for the non-profit CTYLST which they are building as a 501c4 so they can potentially affect policy and drive political candidate endorsements.
Within their mission statement, the group says they seek to nurture change in San Diego by taking on racial injustice, providing homeless outreach, protecting the environment and reaching out to queer youth.
The activists are building CTYLST with the end goal of legislation in mind. Politicians, Lee said, are eventually going to want their endorsement.
“We need politicians to remember: ‘You still work for us’. If we’re partnering with other organizations that are committed to similar issues, that means other partners potentially are or aren’t going to endorse you either,” Lee said.
Moss says the group plans to focus on education and service-oriented activities but emphasizes that the true outcome lies outside of protests.
“We need to engage people to get involved with legislation, produce voter results. People like us who are of color, we’re not rich. We have millionaire politicians making decisions for homeless people, unaware of what life is like on the other side,” Moss said.
Lee says there is a disconnect between generations as well as a disconnect in politics, gives Queer youth outreach as an example of where she believes a positive community event has potential to foster intergenerational communication.
They are choosy about which protests they attend. Lee says they’ve realized some organizers are underprepared and although they will offer help for select events, they try to protect their volunteers, some as young as 14 from violence and COVID.
“From my perspective, it’s not our way to march in harm’s way to people who are going to be antagonistic. For each protest, we question: would we be comfortable with the most vulnerable volunteer going? Young bodies and minds are too valuable to endorse putting in harm’s way,” Lee said.
Moss, who recently graduated from UCLA with a degree in biology and is currently working on a master’s degree in clinical psychology at SDSU, says that although the idea of running for office eventually is a consideration, the immediate plan following school was to work in social services at a non-profit organization, not start one in the wake of a protest.
“Eventually, I want to open my own rehab center for holistic care for sex abuse victims but everything is happening earlier than expected. I never thought I’d be doing this… I want to inspire people to speak up, not just for black lives but also for other problems in this world and I hope this group inspires to take action in their community as well,” Moss said.