What does progress really mean to Gen Z?

How will we protect the marginalized when the crowds wane and the hashtags stop trending? Gen Z wants an action plan.

2021 marks the one-year anniversary of hundreds of thousands of Americans protesting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests, where hashtags, riots, and mutual aid efforts combined into a movement unlike one we had ever seen against police brutality and other demonstrations of institutionalized racism. 

And five years ago, Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was the scene of the second-largest mass shooting since 9/11, killing 49 LGBTQ+ people. 

In the wake of both of these majorly devastating losses, we as a nation are left to ask if enough has been done to honor the lives lost. Beyond being reactive to tragedy, how does Gen Z define sociopolitical progress?

As the generation of upcoming leaders, Gen Z has taken to the streets and social media to voice how they feel about the timing, intent, and actionability of social progress today. 

Defining Performative Activism

We’ve seen performative activism when #BLM is a temporary placeholder in a bio and the rainbow version of a company logo is switched for the month of June.

For some, justice seemed to be served when Pulse Nightclub was recently memorialized and Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday. But are these historic events truly progress or just temporary placeholders for sustainable change? How do we evaluate the responsibility of corporations and the accountability of politicians alike? 

We asked 19-year-old Mariah Cooley, co-founder of Howard University March of Our Lives chapter, what Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday meant to her:

“I am happy that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. Juneteenth represents the freedom that my ancestors fought so tirelessly for. However, essentially a federal holiday does nothing to address the lasting consequences of slavery. In order to achieve true justice, we need our legislators to pass legislation such as reparations, investing in black youth and education, ending gun violence, and divesting in the police. I encourage all citizens to hold their elected officials accountable by demanding them to pass progressive legislation to save black lives.”

As the founder of oSTEM (Out in STEM) at Howard University, 23-year-old Andre Vincent recommends “creating an environment for LGBTQ+ POC that they may pursue their passions in STEM as their full authentic self, at whatever step of their journey to that state they may be. If legislators and companies alike want to see more LGBTQ+ POC in their workforce, that is a direction more befitting to move in:  Memorialize our healing with legislation that protects and nurtures us, empower our minds by meeting us where we are.”

Andre stresses the importance of protecting LGBTQ+ POC if companies and politicians aim to create systemic and sustainable change. 

“For lawmakers and company heads, it would benefit us all to venture away from “seats at the table”, which may encourage having to prove your right to your agency, and move instead toward equity, regardless of positional power. One of the most bittersweet things companies can put on is diversity conferences targeted toward LGBTQ+ students, for example. While it’s a great opportunity to network and learn more from professionals who love like us, the conferences can feel exclusionary to people who don’t aren’t out and/or don’t have fully supportive living environments. Coming home from a “conference for gays” could incite violence, especially for black and brown people.”

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Gen Z arguably understands our duty to be activists the most out of any prior generation. With the power to start movements in the palm of our hands, we will always ask for the rights and change we want to see. We’re not a generation of sensitive complainers, we just know what we and every generation after us deserves.

JUV Consulting is a Gen Z collective that works with companies to create purpose-driven and authentic marketing campaigns that engage young audiences. Contact us at info@juvconsulting.com if you would like to learn how to reach Gen Z, or sign up for our weekly newsletter, The Screenshot, to get Gen Z insights straight to your inbox.

Maia Regman (she/her) is a 22-year-old woman from the Bronx, New York. She’s a Howard Woman™ that has been empowered by her HBCU, the illustrious Howard University, to advocate for the advancement of all Black people. Maia uses her platform as a content creator (@maia_melanin) to inspire creatives and empower entrepreneurs.