As part of the short-interview series for the CUYR Newsletter, The Centre for Urban Youth Research team asked Peyton Wilson (CUYR affiliate, youth activist, and founder of an education mutual aid network The Black Knowledge Coalition) a few questions about The Black Knowledge Coalition and Black youth organizing.
How would you describe the Black Knowledge Coalition (BKC)? Why was it important for you to establish this coalition?
The Black Knowledge coalition is an education mutual aid network where members of the Black community, primarily women and queer people, empower revolutionary action through collective education. This is accomplished between resource exchanges, teach-ins, film screenings, and fellowship. Our goal is to dissolve the paywall between the academic institution and the people. We believe those with access to these resources have a responsibility to work with their community to burst the intellectual bubble. Those who live through the conditions the academic world writes about offer equally valuable knowledge of their conditions. The goal of BKC is to simply bridge the gap between these communities and center Black liberation in all our efforts.
Whom are you (re)producing knowledge for and against? Why?
We are making all knowledge relevant to liberation on all fronts for Black people and people of color accessible to people outside of the academy. Our purpose is to strip the jargon, rhetoric, and discourse down and get to the core of how imperialist and white supremacist institutions maintain an oppressive state. This takes place via our own introductory texts based on scholarly works, book giveaways, discussions, and mutual aid work. Our goal is to incorporate the intellectual into the political. There is much power in arming subjugated communities with the information that is actively kept from their grasp—information that aids an increased understanding of the systems that harm them.
Before founding BKC, much of my lived experience informed my education. The more I developed my radical politics and read about Black radicalism, the better I understood how my conditions were shaped by institutions of power. BKC believes this potential lies in all of us and is key to coordinated action against these institutions.
How could you describe the potentials of “arming your community with knowledge” for mobilization toward Black liberation?
Unveiling how institutions of power are designed to protect the interests of white elites will unveil revolutionary power. A big part of BKC’s education is historical. We believe in learning about moments leading up to anti-imperial, anti-capitalist, and anti-white supremacist movements is key to tapping into that own potential in ourselves. This includes learning from mistakes, analyzing events in a contemporary context, and actively centering the experience of Black queerness as innately anti-whiteness.
Here, is where our political education overlaps with mutual aid work and action efforts. When we understand how the state actively dissolved radical movements on the left, we can apply that knowledge to future organizing. Arming our community with knowledge is an act of liberation. It liberates our community from a hegemonic understanding of our current conditions and institutions of violence. The idea of shared knowledge is seen in radical writings across diasporas. This is something we are actively tapping into and trying to fortify.
What are the barriers as the BKC you have experienced so far in the processes of knowledge production and dissemination?
Our biggest barrier has been gentrification of radical spaces. Being based in Washington, D.C. means fighting for space with the gentrifying class of white leftists. We are very proud about having a Black only space. Because we believe all struggles are connect, we often open our conversations with our siblings of color. However, we have struggled with finding physical and metaphorical space where conversations about liberation and Black thought can take place without the white gaze. For us and the Black abolitionist organizations we have a relationship with, this is a form of surveillance and white apology. BKC makes all our resources and conversations available for free online, so we encourage white comrades to interrogate their desire to be seen expanding their radical education instead of simply doing it.
With that being said, we acknowledge that some information is still in the hands of the oppressor. We have invited white comrades to join our discussions as they have extensive information on a subject or can offer their personal resources. However, a common denominator with our co-conspirators is that their presence comes from a place of authenticity—not apology. Our radical ancestors recognized the value in a united front against the behemoth of imperialism, capitalism, and whiteness. With a united front comes an awareness of self, an ongoing desire to improve, and an understanding of privilege and place.
What has been the most important achievement of the BKC?
Something I’ve learned during my years of organizing is no one’s effort is more important than another’s, they just contribute what’s needed at that time. I hope that our smaller and more intimate discussions have just as much an impact as our biggest event, but I definitely have a something I’m the proudest of. This past August, we held a Mutual Aid Book Bash, where Haymarket Books donated nearly 100 total copies of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba. This day was incredibly special to me because we gave out books to people of all ages in DC’s historic Anacostia Park. Anacostia is a Black neighborhood that is facing the pressure of gentrification. The event was the weekend before 4th of July, so there were cookouts and family reunions all over the park. Folks were dancing, grilling, kids were playing pick-up basketball and roller skating—it was a rejuvenating display of Blackness. I’m humble that BKC was able to be there with mutual aid and labor groups from around the city providing educational resources.
What do you think about the future of political activism of Black youth in your city, across the country and globe?
Black youth organizing took place long before me and will take place long after. As a non-native Washingtonian I value taking a backseat to the generations of organizers in the District. I see groups embracing and cultivating the youth activist spirit across the city, especially around issues of housing rights and gentrification. I believe more people who move to urban centers and get involved in political activism have a duty to take the lead of those who have lived there before them. That’s how we learn and that’s how we make progress. This is a phenomenon I’ve seen growing over the last few years with Gen Z activists.
It would behoove Gen Z activists to listen and learn before we plan a revolution. Listen to each other and listen to those who might know better. It wasn’t until I spoke to native DC residents and older folk in my hometown of Atlanta that I realized most of my “new ideas” had already been done. It wasn’t until I worked with them to see what we can do differently that there was an impact. Gen Z activists are very passionate, and we have a lot of anger. Anger about how we inherited a world we don’t deserve. Anger about how we’ve been tasked with finding a solution. And angry about the violent institutions that have caused so much harm for so long. But I've only been on this Earth for 22 years. I know I don’t know everything, but I do know that we can get much closer to a meaningful and united step toward collective action if we take the time to learn about those before us.