Sade Sellers, Speaking Truth to Power to Rock The Vote
Despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, Southern California has had a busy summer. In the wake of both Breonna Taylor's and George Floyd's murders, millions worldwide took to the streets, protesting and demanding justice, Los Angeles included. Who can forget one day, in particular, June 7th, 2020, which saw an astonishing 50,000 protestors flooding the streets of Hollywood, creating a viral moment that captured international headlines? In the midst of this, we saw one of Los Angelenos' rallies stand out from the rest–Sade Sellers, the founder of The Social Ripple Effect.
"The narrative at the time was all the protests are burning things down, and they're so full of hate and anger, so we wanted to do something where everyone could come," said Sellers when reflecting on her first rally. Sellers had only been formally protesting for a week when she found herself at the center of one of the city's more publicized, visible rallies located in the backyard of Hollywood's legendary Laugh Factory. After learning that the original organizers of a June 1st protest backed out due to a potential National Guard presence and safety threats, Sellers was angry and decided to do something about it. "I wasn't trying to knock [the original organizers], but it felt like a place of privilege to say, 'Well, I'm afraid so I can't go outside.' I have to wear Black skin every day, and I still have to go outside." While only a handful gathered, within a couple of hours, the crowd had grown into hundreds.
“I do think you can be a part of the fight without actually having to be physically there, but you have to do something... I don't know what's next, but it's gonna be big. Watch out for it!”
"We noticed a lot of people were bringing their kids and their dogs. People who are wheelchair-bound showed up." A few days later, when she decided to celebrate the life of Breonna Taylor, she hired an ASL translator. "If the revolution isn't intersectional, it's not worth it. It has to be for everyone. It can't just be for some of us," she said. "Black people are not monolithic. There are some of us that are handicapped. Some are deaf, gay, trans, so we wanted to make sure it could be all-inclusive, and we kept it that way, for the entire time we were here." After recognizing the impact of her rallies, Sellers felt compelled to do more. Her non-profit, the Social Ripple Effect, was born.
Youth-led movements championed by young, often-inexperienced community members are as American as apple pie. There's Marsha Taylor who was only 15 years old when she took ownership of the Black Panther Party's Free Breakfast program in the late 60s. And then, of course, there's Martin Luther King, Jr. who was in his mid-20s when he was chosen to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, his first significant foray into organized activism. "I like the way he didn't talk at you; he talked to you. I like the way he led crowds and got people to not follow him, but join him," said Sellers as she reflected on King's legacy. Despite his initial lack of experience, there's no denying he significantly disrupted the status quo and made everlasting change. "We always like to bring up MLK because, 'He's peaceful, he's peaceful!' but the man got shot on a balcony at the same time."
She also closely follows the leadership of the Black Lives Matter founders, Opal Tometti, Patrisse Cullors, and Alica Garza. "We always look at them as the litmus [test]," explained Sellers. Despite her having not yet met them, this doesn't stop her from tuning in to the BLM social media platforms to ensure the Social Ripple Effect remains aligned with their overall goals and mission. "I really like the LA chapter because they're very organized, they know what they're talking about, and they move in a way that gets people to move into action." Another activist Sellers holds in especially high esteem is Molly Watson. A grassroots activist focused on voter registration and education, Watson currently serves as the Senior Development Manager for Courage California.
"Everyone always says, 'I want to volunteer in Rwanda,' 'I want to volunteer in China,' or 'I want to volunteer in India,' and they never volunteer in their own communities," Sellers explained. "It's really about starting within your own self-you have to acknowledge your own pain and past, and then you need to start in your community. From there, you can watch the ripples go out wide." The organization has a Five-Five-Five practice it relies on to educate and inspire everyone on how to be most impactful. By educating yourself on five topics, educating five family members or friends on topics, donating to five causes, signing five petitions, and recruiting five people is how you start the ripple.
A major proponent of voter education, the Social Ripple Effect is focused on hosting informationals about the various California propositions appearing on November's ballot. "Every Friday, up until the election on November 3rd, Social Ripple Effect will be at different locations around the city," she said when describing her Proposition Pop-ups. "We spend three hours literally telling you about the propositions. We tell you what they mean-what your 'yes' vote means and what your 'no' vote means." She posts the locations and other details of each pop-up on the organization's Instagram page, @socialrippleeffect.
Sellers recognizes that California's propositions are designed to be confusing, misleading, and ultimately finds them to be problematic. "We have pamphlets that we deciphered in plain language because the propositions are designed for you to not know what you're voting on." In the coming weeks, as Election Day draws close, The [Social] Ripple Effect will be hosting virtual ballot parties as well. "We will go over the entire California ballot—all the measures, all the propositions, and the people who are running—virtually through Zoom so anyone in California can join if they want to learn."
When it comes to the specific propositions, there are a couple of primary interest to Sellers. The first is people opposing Proposition 16 to terminate Affirmative Action. The activist is quick to highlight unique ways Affirmative Action has been manipulated to support privileged classes. "If you're against Affirmative Action, I really hope you're against legacies because that is affirmative action. Just because someone's dad's name is on the library means they get to attend that college or get to be inducted into that sorority? That's the same thing as affirmative action, so how do you not see the difference?" She continued to elaborate. "They like to spin it and say it's only for People of Color, or it's for Black people… It's not like you are going to get hired over a White guy, but [Affirmative Action gets you access and put into] an interview room," Sellers added as she declared her "YES" on Proposition 16.
In addition, Sellers is also an advocate for supporting Proposition 17, which grants voting rights to those on parole. "That would allow over 50,000 parolees—people who are currently on parole in the state of California who paid their dues and went to prison—to vote. They went to jail. They are now back into society, doing what they have to do." She continued, "My aunt is a Parole officer... some people are on parole for decades—ten years, twenty years—how do you take away that freedom from someone who did their duty, who paid their time, is back paying taxes, but they can't vote?" She sighed, "Two-thirds of people on parole are black and brown. So that's two-thirds of people in our communities who cannot vote legally."
After a brief pause, she quickly added with a chuckle, "Rent control is also coming back. So, anyone who lives in LA knows we need that one!"
Throughout her newfound activism journey, the young activist has come across her share of wolves in sheep's clothing who can misguide and confuse their audiences who are tuning in. "I noticed when [some activists] speak, they're just saying buzzwords that get you excited, like 'defund the police.' When you talk to them in person, they actually don't know what they're talking about. They don't know policy, they don't know legislation, and they don't know laws." She continued, "That's how I feel about one such activist. He says these really powerful things that sound good on Instagram and Twitter for you to retweet and post, but you actually don't know what he's talking about, and he doesn't really do action steps."
When asked about the concept of activists becoming celebrities, and if it's problematic, Sellers had a thoughtful response. "I think you can't help if people want to follow you, and they resonate with your word. I think it's when you start to lose yourself and enjoy the celebrity, and all the perks that come with it, and you forget the mission… that's when it becomes a problem." She further explained, "[The Social Ripple Effect] got approached to partner up with a lot of different organizations during this, and some we did and some we didn't. What we've noticed is a lot of people are fighting the good fight, but they're also using it as an opportunity to elevate themselves and positions to put themselves around celebrities that showed up. That's why we were very selective on who we partnered with."
Despite all this, Sellers has discovered hidden gems and allies in her quest for justice and equality. “We're working very closely with The Conversation Truck, who took renovated food trucks, gutted them, and put couches and screens in it." The truck allows a safe space for Black people to talk. "When for your whole life no one's been listening to you and now all of a sudden you get a mic, you get to say all the things you want to say, and there's no judgment, and it's not filtered," she said. "We've been partnering with them at a lot of our events because we feel like it's very healing. We're hoping they'll join us for the rest of the year."
Sellers also has found a partnership with her long-time best friend EJ Josephh, an actor, who has created his own organization, Amplify the Movement, which aims to bring awareness, and opportunities, for Black creatives and entertainment professionals in the industry. When it comes to preserving their mental health, the two often decompress, vent, and enjoy exploring Los Angeles together. Sellers, an accomplished screenwriter at her core, and Josephh enjoy watching movies and reality television as well as frequenting some of their favorite food spots in North Hollywood. "New Deal has the best sausage and gravy biscuits!" gushed Sellers. "I really love Blakhaus in North Hollywood. It's a Black-owned restaurant that has hookah and fried Oreos," chimed EJ. "They have a Better Than Popeye's Chicken Sandwich, and it is better than a Popeye's sandwich!"
When considering all the work that is ahead and best practices on how we can all get involved, Sellers acknowledges that not everyone is able to get out and march or rally. One demographic she considers are immigrants, who put their green cards and visas at risk if they march. "I do think you can be a part of the fight without actually having to be physically there, but you have to do something. You just can't sit at home watching Twitter and watching the news and being a bystander. Either it's your pocketbook or your mind, education, donation, petition, whatever you want to do, but you have to have your hand in some part." Josephh is equally as optimistic while taking care to acknowledge that no one truly knows what the future holds. "I don't know what's next, but it's gonna be big. Watch out for it!"