Inspired by the protests sweeping the country this month, two college students are using Instagram to create change in a big way.
In just three days, Dezmin Hemmans, 19, and Christian Jackson, 20, rising juniors at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, partnered with 40 different student groups at LMU to raise over $40,000 for a variety of organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
Hemmans and Jackson are co-presidents of the on-campus group Brothers of Consciousness (BOC), a black male leadership organization whose mission is to promote the values of leadership and social justice within the black community and LMU community at large. After seeing Instagram flooded with posts supporting the movement, they decided to use the platform to make an impact.
They designed an easily shareable bingo-like template that was distributed on Instagram by over 500 students and collected individual donations via Venmo. "The card acts as a suggested donation amount," Jackson explained. "So, as individuals donate, the original person who posted can tag them on the amount that they donated."
They've since surpassed their goal and have raised a total of $50,000.
TMRW: When did you come up with the idea of putting together a bingo game as a fundraiser?
Jackson: The whole ideation was to figure out what Dez and I could do on a tangible, actionable level to bring people together and actually have some impact by making a change. We knew that an Instagram post honoring Geoge Floyd was not going to be enough.
We created an announcement about Floyd’s death to offer people the opportunity to contribute, take action and support the cause. Our school nor the community had made an announcement or spoke out about the issue yet. I was not very happy with what I was seeing from the community. We could and should make a much bigger difference. Literally, two days after the initial announcement post, I created an Instagram graphic with a bingo card that encourages both donations and followers to avoid engaging in performative activism.
The first person to donate was someone from my high school. Next, BOC posted it on behalf of the organization and then every individual in our group posted it. We were able to add $3,000 to start just from our members posting it to Instagram. From there, it just took off!
Did you ever imagine you would raise this much money? What was your original goal?
Jackson: When I had this idea, believe it or not, I thought we could hit $30,000. Our first goal was $20,000 and we beat that in the first 48 hours which was just insane. As of June 14, we crossed the $50,000 mark. Dez branded us as the “LMU Community Coalition.” The best news is that we didn't just come together on the campus during the tragedy, but we will now continue to support one another, embracing each others’ voices going forward.
Hemmans: Christian and I created graphics in order to celebrate different milestones. There came a point in time that we stopped celebrating each milestone because as soon as we created a graphic, we were breaking the next milestone that seemed within hours of each other.
What organizations will the donations support?
Jackson: I think the reason this entire campaign was successful was due to the fact that each group that raised money was able to choose the organization to which they wanted to raise funds. This choice allowed people that got involved to hold a stake in their donations. We just made sure that all of the organizations were directly tied to either BLM or supporting the Black community at large. Currently, there are about 20 plus organizations we are supporting. The organizations to which we have contributed the largest amount so far are The Bail Project and Reclaim The Block.
Many people contacted Dez and I and told us it was the first time they've been genuinely happy in a week or so. It was the first time they had felt any type of positivity. They were used to seeing protest after protest and police violence. We want people to know these funds are necessary and very helpful for the people and organizations that are trying to make the most change at the ground level.
What experiences inspired you to start this initiative?
Hemmans: I think what mobilized me was the amount of frustration that I felt. LMU is a Jesuit school that promotes Ignatian values and the promotion of social justice and frankly, the university was failing at that point by being so silent. We were the first organization to make a post or even acknowledge feelings within the Black community. But as far as personal experience, the frustration that is rooted in apathy for this issue and feeling stuck was my igniter. I didn't want to be stuck anymore. I really wanted to be able to have my voice while simultaneously creating change.
Jackson: I echo Dez and that entire feeling of apathy. The first time my generation had seen anything like this was the Trayvon Martin case back when we were 12 or 13 years old. And ever since then, we've been seeing the pattern repeating the action. Now I am 20 years old and I haven't seen any change or systemic action being taken. When I first saw the George Floyd video, I had a feeling of being lost and being numb. I had a feeling that the outrage was not going to surface in the way that was needed about the entire situation.
I sat back, and I said, “What can I do?” As a result, I have changed our small local community and hopefully will expand that to a national team. You have to start small. We had a healing conference call at our school with 130 Black student participants the day before the fundraiser in order to give some context on the matter. I needed to get rid of the feelings of apathy and loss, so we tried to hunker down and think about what we could do to create that change.
What message do you have for other college students who may be feeling those similar feelings of being stuck?
Jackson: We're not just the future but we are also the present. The university can help us make good connections, form a network and donate cash right now. Once we made enough noise, our school reached out to us to try to figure out what they can do to try and help out as well. There is so much that we can do to make sure our actions and our voices are being felt and being heard loud and clear. Right now, we need to be making sure we’re utilizing this platform correctly.
Hemmans: College students are the people that historically have been creating change in America. We are really the future of our nation and we have enough knowledge and access to really be heard. We are capable of being change-makers.