Clifton Kinnie wasn’t planning to be an activist. It wasn’t until he saw a picture of slain teen Michael Brown on his Twitter timeline that he decided he had to make a change in his St. Louis community—and beyond.
“It was a time in which it truly radicalized me in a way in which I wanted to seek full liberation for my people, not just any partial liberation promised to us in the past,” he told the Daily Dot. “And that’s what the Ferguson [Mo.] uprising did for me. It radicalized me and so many others.”
During August 2014, Clifton organized a small group of young activists to form Our Destiny STL, a network of a few dozen high schools focused on community outreach. That summer, he became a student leader in the Ferguson uprising, helping catapult the activism within that small community to national relevance.
Now, Clifton is a sophomore at Howard University, where he is associate director for political and external affairs in the student government. He volunteered for local political campaigns during the 2016 election. He also received the Andrew Young Award for civil rights leadership and was a guest speaker at The Atlantic’s Education Summit. Clifton met with President Barack Obama to talk about race and policing at his town hall on race in June. In 2015, he addressed the Ferguson Commission about his concerns regarding police violence in the St. Louis area. “It is no secret St. Louis has become a tale of two cities,” Clifton said at the meeting. “I believe I live in one of the most racially divided cities in America.”
Clifton gets a lot of inspiration from his late mother, who died a month before Michael Brown was killed. She always told him that he and his seven siblings were “like a chain that had to be kept strong.” That’s how he views the Movement for Black Lives.
“I am reminded in this struggle that some people are in love with the idea of freedom, but we all have different plans for getting there,” he told The Root. “Leadership is knowing that this movement is bigger than any one person. Leadership is centering your work around young people and dismissing bigotry at all forms.”