Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS), a think-tank run by five Baltimore natives under the age of 30, advocates for policy changes that challenge structural racism. The organization works to empower young Black people by providing the tools needed to address public policy from a race-conscious perspective.
Originally founded as a student organization at Towson University, LBS was established in 2010 as a for-profit policy think-tank and political action committee. Its five founding members found national success on the college debate circuit and wanted to use the skills sharpened by their debate training to effect change in the lives of marginalized people in Baltimore and elsewhere.
LBS is currently engaged in policy advocacy in Maryland. The organization also runs the Eddie Conway Liberation Institute (ECLI), an annual summer institute that trains young African-Americans in the art of debate and the broader historical context of institutional racism in which public policy in the United States plays out.
For Adam Jackson, CEO, LBS’s approach to policy advocacy is a response to the lack of meaningful engagement with racism in the public sphere. “The way we have conversations about race in the United States means theater,” Jackson said. “Politics in this country is theater. We have real surface-level discussions about race that do not address the material realities of suffering that people go through every day because of racism.”
According to Dayvon Love, director of Research and Public Policy for LBS, it is important to fight the tendency to merge class and race issues. “A lot of White folk will talk about class first,” said Love, “and that class-first analysis allows them to disavow the implications of their White skin privilege and then allows them to speak on behalf of folks who are materially configured in the world differently.”
The organization’s for-profit status is similarly geared toward preserving control of the organization’s message and initiatives. By not relying on grant-funding, LBS is able to remain autonomous. “We’re not beholden to any interest except the interests of the people whom we’re trying to advocate for and with,” Love said.
Recently, LBS achieved a legislative victory with the passage of Christopher’s Law by the Maryland General Assembly. Christopher’s Law requires police officers receive cultural sensitivity and basic life-saving training. It is named after Christopher Brown, who was strangled to death by police officers who did not have the training to resuscitate him.
LBS is now focusing on the ECLI program. For Lawrence Grandpre, assistant vice president for research, the ECLI is a corrective to the educational Euro-centrism that often does not address the life-experiences of African Americans or train them to apply their learning to real world issues. “I didn’t have the words to articulate exactly what my frustration was,” said Grandpre of his experience at Whitman College, a liberal arts school in Washington State, “but it was very clear that, despite being one of the most talented students at the school, I wasn’t getting any sort of guidance in terms of how to use the knowledge I was given to affect the people I’d seen suffer the most in the world I lived in.”
The goal of the ECLI is to create scholars and advocates, according to Jackson. “For us it’s really about just training students to understand how the world operates so that they can be effective change agents when they get older.”