In 2017, Olusade “Sade” Green was wandering, lost, through the halls of the United States Capitol Building when she happened upon one of America’s icons, the late Congressman John Lewis. Stunned, she decided this was her chance to meet one of her heroes — an early leader of the Civil Rights movement — so she hung around until his conversation was over and introduced herself. He invited her to have a private conversation, shared advice, and impacted her political aspirations for years after.
That experience led Green to speak about political representation and the need for Black voices in politics in a TedX Talk the following year. And, after Lewis’ death in July, it inspired her op-ed in Teen Vogue, in which she discussed the power of the leader’s words on a budding young political activist.
The interaction was momentous, but not the 22-year-old’s first introduction to the world of politics and advocacy. Born and raised in New York City, the daughter of a Nigerian father and African American mother, Green was always involved in community-based activism. She was president of her school’s Key Club, the nationwide, student-led volunteer organization. She ran food drives and even worked as an intern in Nassau County’s District Attorney’s Community Affairs bureau, where she got involved in the Youth Court restorative justice program. Green says the internship was significant in her journey towards activism and taught her how to advocate for community-based alternatives to the school-to-prison pipeline. “That was one of the first times where I saw the power of my own voice,” Green reflected. “I do have the power to shape my society, my community… Before, I didn’t want to do politics at all.”
Underpinning this work was her identity as a young Black woman, influenced by a confluence of cultures. “Being both African American and Nigeria has really shaped my activism because Blackness is not a monolith,” Green explained. “That’s something I’m always thinking about when I advocate for Black people.”
She was also a Girl Scout, and the organization’s motto, “A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed,” seems fitting to mention here — Green says her life has been defined by varied, community-based volunteerism.
Green met her future boss, Congresswoman, and former New York District Attorney Kathleen Rice, at a Girl Scout event at her local library. When prompted for questions, Green asked Rice if her office was accepting applications.
It was during that 2017 Congressional internship, during the summer after her first year at Amherst College in Massachusetts, that Green ran into Lewis. “When I was in Congress, I was definitely inspired being around people who I admired and seeing them fight for change,” Green said. “But I couldn’t help but notice the lack of racial diversity there.”
Green was frequently the only person of color in the room and tied the lack of Black interns directly to a lack of representation at the higher levels. “When you don’t have that many interns of color, then you don’t have that many on your legislative staff. You don’t have that many elected officials — it’s all a pipeline,” Green said. “I realized that one of the biggest issues I wanted to focus on was expanding that pipeline.”
So, in 2019, Green organized the Leadership Brainery’s National Impact Summit at Harvard Law School. The leadership event brought together a diverse group of almost 100 college leaders to connect and inspire a new generation of political advocates through networking, job recruitment, and scholarships. “I organized that and developed that in order to expand the political pipeline for first-generation students and students of color,” Green said. “A lot of my activism has been around increasing racial representation and decision-making power for people of color.” She wrote about her experiences later that year in a Forbes op-ed titled “How The Political Pipeline Disenfranchises Young People Of Color.”
She now works at a national public policy firm as issue campaigns and movements associate, and is staying involved in online advocacy for movements like Black Lives Matter and #EndSARS before her next career move. As a recent graduate of Amherst College with a degree in English, Green is looking forward to law school, a run for public office, and a continued career advocating for Black voices at the highest levels of politics.
But behind the scenes, she’s also paying special attention to her true passion: writing. Her honors thesis for Amherst’s English program was a series of short stories featuring women and girls of color, with a focus on the power of representation in literature.
“I see writing as a form of activism,” Green said. “When I was a kid, I wrote because I wanted to create stories where it was Black girls as the main characters. I wanted black girls to see ourselves.” Green connects this push for representation in the literature to her desire to see representation in politics and has been finding ways to connect her identity as an author with her work as a political advocate.
She says the words of one of her favorite authors and inspirations, Toni Morrison, helped her understand how to use her personal passion for something bigger. “[Morrison] said that books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflections. Books change your mind… The idea that you can write and change someone’s mind, or even change someone’s heart, or even inspire someone — that’s important to me. And it’s real.”
While being a young person in this field is often difficult, and can be frightening, Green says her age ultimately benefits her. “I think that now we’re at this point where a lot of companies and organizations are really looking to young people and trying to incorporate our voices,” Green said.
Green recalls the words of famed author and activist Audre Lorde when she reflects on her activism, the power of young people, and the fear of speaking out on issues that, for many, are matters of life and death:
When I dare to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision — then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.
Here’s what else she wants her peers to know.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1) What’s one piece of advice you’d give young people looking to get involved in activism?
“Start in your community. There is so much work that needs to be done where you are, and you can help do that work. Whether it’s working with a nonprofit or an initiative, there are people there who need your help. You can’t represent your people if you don’t know your people and know what they need. I would also say to collaborate and amplify… People tend to want to create things, but everything doesn’t have to be created. You don’t have to create a new nonprofit. You don’t have to create a new initiative. There are nonprofits and initiatives in your community that probably need your help.”
2) Why are young people integral voices in political activism?
“We offer a different and, oftentimes, more progressive perspective, which is necessary… I think that younger people are getting an idea that, ‘Hey, status quo doesn’t mean it’s right. How can we change this? How can we make this country something that works for everyone?’
“But also, because we’re young, any decision regarding policy is going to affect our lives for a very long time… We’re going to be on this earth for a long time. Our voices really do matter.”
3) What are some tools or resources that budding young activists can use to inform and propel their activism?
“Writing is one of the best tools that you can use — raising awareness about what you care about through words is very powerful.”
Green also says that social media is a powerful tool for young people. “We’ve been told by our parents and our grandparents, our aunties, and uncles, that social media is a waste of time, but I’ve connected with so many Gen Z activists via social media. I spread awareness via social media. A lot of the op-eds I write, I push out on social media… and I also learn from other people.”
As a writer, Green recommends young people looking to get involved in political activism read stories by Black authors. She suggests Black Girl Magic by Mahogany L. Browne, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, or finna by Nate Marshall. Lastly, Green encourages young people to apply for organizing fellowships with political campaigns, institutions, or nonprofits to learn more about activism from people already doing the work.
4) What would you tell someone who feels disillusioned with politics or the current state of the world? Why is it still important to get involved?
“I would tell them the same thing that Congressman John Lewis told me — I needed to get involved in politics because, ‘If you do not participate, politicians can do anything and say anything and you’ll have no say.’ I want people to know that… you are owed a voice in your government. This is not something they are giving you as a courtesy.”
Green says that feelings of cynicism should be replaced with a sense of urgency and that young people should feel empowered to demand a place in political conversations. “I don’t want people to ever feel like their government is doing them a favor. I can’t stress enough: This is our world, our society, and we have every right to advocate for these issues,” Green said. “I want young people to think about the world that they want to live in and understand that they have every right to live in that world.”