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#NoMentholMondays: How youth activists are fighting back

Youth activists have identified tobacco, specifically the targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes in African-American communities, as a social issue worth fighting.

“There is great power in taking a stand against things that destroy the black community,” Julia Osagie, a youth activist and Howard University student, said.

Raekwon Halton, a student and youth activist at Prairie View A&M, a historically black university in Texas, agreed. “In beginning this year’s African American History Month, it is time that we take a stand for our community and put forth the efforts to save our own people,” he said.

Activists identified technological advancements as critical in the fight to create tobacco-free communities.

“We exist in a critical time period,” Osagie said.  “Our generation is facing the rapid innovation of technology and societal structure. We have the ability to utilize and exploit the power of social media and other popular mediums to accomplish what we desire.”

Lincoln Mondy, a youth activist at George Washington University student told Truth Initiative that he is planning to launch a digital storytelling project called Black Lives/Black Lungs that will shed light on the relationship between the black community and tobacco.

“I plan on creating a space that reignites the conversation through storytelling and mobilizes members of the community to seek cessation services,” Mondy said.

Mondy recalled his familiarity with cigarette packaging as a child. “If an adult asked me to describe what the Empire State Building looked like, I don’t think I would have been successful in doing so. However, if that same adult asked me to describe a pack of Newports, I’m confident that I could articulate that green, white, and gold packaging with ease.

Meanwhile, youth activists at historically black colleges and universities are organizing their own communities.

“Here on the campus of Prairie View A&M University we have begun our efforts with programs, informational booths, and surveys that will further our ongoing attempt to join the movement and ban the use of tobacco on and around Prairie Views campus,” Halton, said.

Osagie laid out a holistic approach to creating smoke-free communities. “It’s important to reaffirm the worth of the black body by calling for the eradication of tobacco from our communities,” she said.

“Historically Black Colleges can adopt tobacco and smoke free policies, the hip hop and rap industry could stop idolizing tobacco as a symbol of power, or it could be as basic as nudging our friends and encouraging them to stay away from a bad habit.”