From Drafting Policies to Protesting Racism, Yumi Ndhlovu is Working for a Just Future
By Megha Goel
“Youth have the power to change the world, and their voices need to be heard.”
This message is from Yumi Ndhlovu, Empowering Youth Exploring Justice Youth Council member and a rising junior at Hathaway Brown School outside of Cleveland. She represents the voice of all Youth Council members working tirelessly to create a better future for Cleveland area youth.
Ndhlovu is 16 years old and already has almost half a decade of social justice engagement under her belt. In the early days of EYEJ, young Yumi came along with her mother from meeting to meeting.
Born in New York, Yumi has also lived in the Turks and Caicos Islands. She now resides in Cleveland with her mother, Mai Moore, founder and executive director of EYEJ. She has been involved with the Youth Council since its inception within the non-profit. “As a young child, I always used to accompany my mom. I remember going to church that day.” Seven years ago, an after-service conversation about the Trayvon Martin incident ignited the foundation of EYEJ. Initially, EYEJ led discussions with the youth on various topics ranging from exploring violence and toxic stress to financial literacy. Conversations like this had never been held before. She states, “These discussions became an outlet for the young kids. It became a safe space where they could speak freely and share their stories.”
Yumi has won laurels in debates at state and district levels. She talks about her keen interest in drafting policy. “I focus on policy, whether to support it and the impacts it would have on the youth.” This rising star also dabbles in hockey. Taking subjects like AP US History, Statistics, and foreign language in school, Yumi wants to pursue a career in political science and international affairs. She has an interest in criminal justice and law too. “Politics could be an option, but corruption comes along with it.”
“Women have always been my heroes and have inspired me to be better, stronger, and more independent.”
Yumi grew up surrounded by her mother and grandmother. “My grandmother, Yoko Moore, was a single mother and a successful violinist. She was an immigrant from Japan, who at age 13 left home to study violin, and came to the United States when she was 28 to be a violinist.” She remembers her grandmother reminiscing about her childhood days, boarding school, and life as an immigrant as she struggled to create her identity in America. She goes on to say, “My mom, to me, is the perfect picture of a fearless champion.” As a child, Yumi was encouraged to become aware of Black history and societal issues.
She loves reading about strong women who have been instruments of change in the country. Becoming by former first lady Michelle Obama and My Own Words by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg have left her inspired. Yumi makes special mention of politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her progressive policies.
“We are interested in the well-being and betterment of the community and Cleveland.”
As a second-grader at Onaway Elementary School, “I had interesting experiences,” she reflects. The school was attended by a mix of students of color from several minority communities.
As a rising junior at Hathaway Brown, “I am privileged, and I am aware. Coming from a private school, we as students don’t deal with violence.” On the subject of gun violence, Yumi says that students in the school don’t own guns, but their families do since they do not trust the police. She goes on to say that she and her classmates have self-initiated discussions on policies and change. Additionally, “At EYEJ, youth members discuss issues through different programs and draft recommendations to policies.” She also talks about the impact of disparities between blacks and whites and about connectivity inequities in Cleveland.
“Kids are often taught not to trust law enforcement, so they don’t have other ways of protecting or relying on other people.”
The youth believes ACAB. “The institution devalues the lives of people of color. All police aren’t bad, but the institution is.” Ndhlovu says that people in Cleveland are scared of the police. She traces an example from the recent past, “A person from the community was robbed. While he filed a complaint, the police, rather than protecting him, arrested him.” Institutions are corrupt and racially biased. Yumi states the violence stems from the police-youth relationship: “Being a part of the Youth Council, I have experienced and heard many stories related to gun violence. It’s positive that the members of the Youth Council come to space because they can really open up and share their stories and experiences.” She adds, “Police brutality is a huge problem in the community. And the problem is being solved by people who have not directly experienced this. So stigmas and stereotypes are often put around gun violence and other issues of violence.”
“Conversations are good, but action is what we need right now.”
“I participated in protests that happened in Downtown Cleveland. The police were the ones who escalated the situation and not the protesters. We dealt with batons, tear gas, and pepper spray. But I was happy to see so many people step up and voice out.” Ndhlovu also shares her view on Black Lives Matter. She says, “The campaign is giving voice to the people who don’t have one. It’s the voice of our brothers who are tired of being oppressed. It has been years of injustice. People have been dealing with constant fear. It’s time for reparations. It’s long overdue.” Additionally, “It’s important for people not just to treat it like a trend. They need to go beyond social media to educate themselves. Continuing discussions is important, bridging the world of people who don’t really experience the violence and suppression daily to people who are experiencing and can tell their stories. Conversations are good, but action is what we need right now. Especially with Black Lives Matter, it’s the best time to talk about policy and change. People are listening and are considering other points of view for the first time. We need to work on advocating for the youth and the people who are dealing with the violence.”
Yumi shares, “Youth are often blamed. But it’s a systemic issue. It’s an issue of racial inequities. Youth don’t get proper education; they aren’t given a place where they feel respected, and their voices are heard. It’s the situation that exposes kids to violence. Parents do their best and run multiple jobs to provide for the family. Sometimes, children need money, and they resort to easy means to earn money. These issues need to be addressed head-on.” She ends best by saying: “It’s often said that the kids are too young to contribute. But this makes no sense to me. Youth have the power to change the world, and their voice needs to be heard.”