Around the nation, Generation Z activists are leading protests against police brutality, confederate monuments, and racism.
Generation Z (also known as Zoomers) is the designation for those born after 1986. Known as the true digital natives, raised with access to smartphones and connectivity, Zoomers have shown themselves to be politically active and globally engaged.
Atlanta’s Royce Mann and Cole Bickerstaff are two Gen Z influencers using their platforms for political advocacy.
Bickerstaff, a 2020 alum of North Atlanta High School, and Mann, a 2020 alum of Grady High School, have both used the momentum of recent protests and movements to emerge as voices for their generation and advocates for change.
Bickerstaff is doing this in large part through social media. He has used his Tik Tok influencer status to promote a number of protests to his peers and followers, advocating for education around police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and Climate Change.
“Everyone should be able to live in a shared world that promises true equality to all, and everyone should be able to participate and promote this movement to achieve this goal. I’ve witnessed countless acts of microaggressions and racism in person and want to be a part of the change that dismantles racism in its entirety for good,” Bickerstaff shares.
Bickerstaff believes that no one deserves to suffer or be treated unfairly based on skin color and this motivates his advocacy.
“That is exactly what has happened to Black people in America and across the world. The world has progressed in a way that has placed serious traumas and limitations on Black people that hinder their potential for success and has perpetuated this idea of White superiority.”
Mann is motivated by the core belief that we all benefit when we are collectively interested in the well-being of each other.
“This is what it means to be an activist,” he says. “When I see an issue in my community that raises concern, I want to do something about it because whether it affects me or not, it affects my community.”
Bickerstaff comes from a single parent household, having lost his mother during his sophomore year of high school. He describes his father as “fairly conservative.”
“Although he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, he still holds very conservative beliefs on other issues facing this world. Nonetheless, I never hesitate to have conversations with him that open his mind to other perspectives.”
Mann hails from a home few would deem conservative as both members are active members of the DeKalb County Democrats and advocates for the LGBTQ community.
“My parents instilled in me that I have to be aware of what is going on in the world. They stressed that I had to get outside of my own bubble. They taught me that once you do that, you understand the breadth of the world we live in. It makes you feel an automatic sense of responsibility to stand up for others.”
Mann’s parents, Sheri Mann-Stewart (an actor and filmmaker) and Barry Stewart-Mann (an arts educator and storyteller), took him to protests and demonstrations early in his life.
While Bickerstaff and Mann come from households with divergent ideological perspectives, they coalesce around a common understanding of how advocacy can impact our world.
“The issues impacting my generation are countless and each pose a unique threat to our safety and society. The biggest of these would be the countless humanitarian issues pervading the world, such as lasting racism and brutality, ignored famines, conflict, and poverty, horrific treatment of immigrants at the border, and the others that threaten human rights and freedom,” Bickerstaff shared.
Mann reiterates this point when discussing issues that affect his fellow Zoomers.
“The tension between feeling disillusioned but wanting to be more engaged is a struggle for my generation. We want to see change, but at the same time we have a striking absence of faith in the present system to bring about that change .”
“We are working towards reconciling and finding how to activate young people to want to truly make a change within the systems that truly exist now with the end goal of ultimately changing the system.”
Mann sees social media engagement and organized protests as key methods young people can use to force societal change.
“We must use the tools that we are most accustom to,” Mann shares. “Being active through social media, really pushing the narrative through pop culture, and recognize the inherent strengths that young people have when it comes to advocacy and activism to make change happen are key. We need to explore a multitude of different avenues if we want to be effective.”
Both young men have a message for their elders.
“Do not view my generation through a monolithic lens. The same political and ideological differences that exist in other generations exist in my generation,” Mann said.
Bickerstaff agrees and takes his notion further.
“I want non-Zoomers to know that they need to be more open minded to our ideas and struggles and not be so quick to ignore us under the guise of stupidity.”
“If I am presented with any way to help end this problem and create awareness for those around me who are perhaps not as educated on the issue, I’m never going to hesitate to take that opportunity,” Bickerstaff states.
“I urge older Americans to think for themselves and not of themselves in order to understand the issues of the world and why they are so important to people of my generation. There is more to the world than the conservative mindset and this is keeping many stuck in the past.”
Bickerstaff is destined to become a NYU Bobcat, while Mann will wear Emory blue.
Bickerstaff, a graduate of North Atlanta’s IB program, was 3rd in his class of 500 and is a leader of the High Steaks Campaign. The High Steaks Campaign aims to remove processed beef from Atlanta Public School menus so that we can lessen our contribution to climate change and better the health of our students.
An aspiring actor, Bickerstaff plans to continue his advocacy around Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, veganism/animal cruelty, and climate change.
Mann, a Martin Luther King Scholar, was a member of the Grady High School Governance Team and Grand Marshall for the 2019 Atlanta Pride Parade. He currently serves as the Legislative Director for March for Our Lives Georgia.
Mann will likely major in either political science or interdisciplinary studies. While he does not yet know what he wants to do for a career, he knows what he wants to do for a life.
“I know what impact I want to have. I want to empower other people, especially young people and aid movements for systemic change. I want to bring justice where there is none.