Black Youth Project 100’s Cosette Hampton won’t back down
Written by Beyza Ozer
Edited by Camille King
Feature photo by Kris Lathan
Even after being thrown to the ground at a rally by a white man more than twice her size, Cosette Hampton hasn’t backed down.
“My feelings then were anger and sadness,” the south side native explained. “I angrily screamed in the faces of police officers and cried singing freedom songs with my fellow BYP 100 members.”
Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), an organization that works to “create freedom and justice for black youth,” provided a community for Hampton — a community that included meetings, strategy sessions, protests — anything to get the message of inequality out to the public.
Hampton, a 20-year-old junior studying public policy at The University of Chicago, has been using her voice to aid the Black Lives Matter movement since the murder of Michael Brown in 2014. She ventured to Ferguson with other Black Lives Matter Chicago activists to bring resources such as food, water and milk.
“It’s really radicalized me,” Hampton says. “Though I would say that I was ‘woke’ before this started.”
After arriving home, Hampton, who had met a few members of BYP 100 while in Ferguson, attended her orientation meeting and, from then on, dedicated her free time to the organization.
Even before BYP 100, Hampton knew what oppression, and the pain that comes from it, looked and felt like. She describes herself as a low-income black girl from the Roseland neighborhood, where she had first encountered violence at a young age. Two of her fellow students, Blair Holt and Derrion Albert, were murdered while they were in middle school.
“Blair died trying to save a young lady from being killed,” Hampton says. “We were not angry at his murderers— we were angry that poverty and lack [of support] allowed for the violence to occur. The real fault was placed on the state. Derrion Albert was murdered the summer after my eighth-grade year, four blocks away from my home. He was literally beat to death over some interpersonal bullshit. This was when I realized that police did not make us safer. The only thing that could do that and quell interpersonal violence was equitable access to resources like white kids had.”
From then on, Hampton decided to use her time to create the change she wanted to see in her community, and BYP 100 was her pathway. Hampton says her work as a research assistant at the University of Chicago Poverty Lab is how she wants to shape her career. Hampton says she’ll use her skills in public policy when she travels to South Africa next summer to study the post-Apartheid economy.
“[I’ll be] doing intensive research on how, number one, black people would be living and thriving in all-black spaces, and number two, living outside of capitalism and manifesting research around that. In efforts of dispelling poverty, crime, police brutality, etcetera,” Hampton says.
With Hampton’s schooling, work with The Poverty Lab, and dedication to BYP 100, she has to find some way to take a break while still staying involved. Fighting for equal rights is a tiring job, and finding inspiration to keep going plays a major role in success.
As she pauses to check her phone for the latest music she’s been listening to, Hampton’s laugh erupts and then a semi-serious tone comes about her. She admires Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Jamila Woods’ “Blk Girl Soldier.” Listening to these songs helps her get shit done.
“I think my main contribution right now has been developing an in-depth analysis of how liberalism is damaging to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Hampton says. She believes calling out anti-blackness in white moderate liberalism and radicalizing the Black Lives Matter movement has been beneficial to her.
“The policies are not political policies,” Hampton says. “They’re policies that are revolutionary in that they are not sustained by a so-called political system, they should be inherent because it’s a function of human rights. Similar to how one would perceive reparations. I would like to see no police, no prisons, a guaranteed basic income for all, reparations for black people and abundant black cities.”
When asked about how young black people try to make an impact on the Black Lives Matter movement, Hampton’s voice gets shaky and quiet. She takes her time coming up with an answer.
The school system as it is now may not be reliable, Hampton says, but going to a library on your own and reading is the best way to gain access to new points of view and to make a positive change.
“Reading really changes a lot. It changed a lot for me,” Hampton says, who believes being able to organize is a privilege. “Young people should keep their heads on their goals and affirm themselves and affirm their dreams.”
She pauses one last time. Hampton’s words are filled with hope and the power needed to make progress happen.
“They should reach for what they want instead of reaching for the image of someone else, and do it in an unapologetically black way.”