Reign: social activism begins with passion, knowledge

woman at podium
April Reign addresses an audience January 15 in the Fieldhouse.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts
people marching
Participants march across campus.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts
woman singing on stage
Cassonya Carter sings the Black National Anthem.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts
woman at podium
April Reign on stage at the Fieldhouse.
Image Credit: Amanda Pitts

There were 1,000 tweets about the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, before it was a news story.

April Reign, creator of the viral hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, told an audience gathered in the Fieldhouse January 15 that Twitter and other social media platforms are "powerful tools for social justice if used well."

Reign delivered the keynote address that kicked off Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Week on campus. 

An attorney, writer and activist, Reign sent a tweet in 2015 critical of the 88th Academy Awards ceremony and lack of people of color nominated in major acting and directing categories. Her #OscarsSoWhite tweet went viral and was a catalyst that caused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to change its membership policies and voting rules.

Reign discussed her introduction to social media as a tool for change. In 2014, she sent a tweet, #stopthefight, that ended a proposed celebrity boxing match between the rapper DMX and George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing Trayvon Martin. Her 2015 Oscars Tweet was trending internationally before noon the day she sent it.  

"You don't have to be famous to make a change, you don't need millions of followers," she said. "You need the passion and commitment, followed by knowledge."

She said during King's era, people relied on flyers posted to trees, church meetings or black-owned newspapers to read about where the next rally or boycott would occur. 

"Of course then, news was traveling mostly by word of mouth, and that made it very geocentric," she said. "If you lived in Detroit, you couldn't get to a rally in Ferguson fast. Pursing justice in the digital age means learning more."

She called on audience members to be accomplices in the fight for civil rights, not only allies. 

"Use the privilege you have to stand in the gaps for marginalized communities. Learn what's needed and stand in front of them," Reign said.

Activities that commemorate King's legacy continue on campus through January 20; visit to learn more.