They Push. They Protest. And Many Activists, Privately, Suffer as a Result.
Originally posted at The New York Times
Written by John Eligon
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She lay curled in bed for days, paralyzed by the stresses of a life that she felt had chosen her as much as she had chosen it.
About three years earlier, the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., had spurred Ashley Yates into activism. She would evolve from street protester in her hometown of St. Louis to Black Lives Matter organizer in Oakland.
But Ms. Yates would also feel the pressures of a job that seemed unrelenting: responding repeatedly to the deaths of black residents in communities across America, struggling to win policy reforms that would benefit black people and rallying others to support her causes.
And then, as last year wound down and Ms. Yates felt so depressed that she could not get out of bed, she was reminded of the most dire consequence of an activist life — untimely death.
A fellow activist, Erica Garner, who fought unsuccessfully for years to hold the police responsible for the death of her father, Eric, died last December from a heart attack. She was three years shy of her 30th birthday.
And as Ms. Yates, 32, remembered Ms. Garner’s radicalism and youth, her problems with money and stress, she saw herself. If someone as widely recognized as Ms. Garner could meet such an early demise, then who in the movement was safe, Ms. Yates wondered.
“It’s absolutely scary,” she said. “It’s enough to make you want to quit.”
Next month, the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of one of the most prominent premature deaths in the history of the black liberation struggle, that of Martin Luther King Jr. And whereas he died from an assassin’s bullet at the age of 39, dying young continues to rock social justice activists today.
Over the last two years, at least five young activists who gained national prominence amid the Black Lives Matter movement have died. The causes range from suicide to homicide to natural causes. Most recently, Muhiyidin Moye, a well-known activist from Charleston, was fatally shot last month in New Orleans in a crime that remains unsolved.