“Activism doesn’t build character, it reveals character,” said co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto Janaya Khan at one point in the conversation. The social activist was one of ten panelists whom Lexi Underwood—16-year-old actress—invited to speak on her new digital series “We The Voices of Gen Z.”
Underwood, known for her role on “Little Fires Everywhere,” is leaning into the beauty of the access that virtual connection allows, to gather trustworthy voices who are doing the work when it comes to racial justice. The platform, an offspring of her nascent production company, Ultimate Dream Productions.
Marquis Rodriguez, 23-year-old actor who played the young Raymond Santana on When They See Us, was a refreshing, honest voice throughout the conversation—later divided into five segments.
On “Joy Is An Act of Resistance,” Rodriguez says “everything’s being spoken about right now. There’s no taboo… there’s no off-limits.” He’s using the time to welcome criticism with those who know him with open arms and use his voice as a cisgender Black man to uplift and amplify those who need it. His goal? “Finding direct and exact ways to enact change and use that anger that I’ve stamped down for so many years in the most productive way.”
Rodriguez also touches on the healthy nature of constructive criticism, as well as the key difference between call-out culture (accountability) and cancel culture. The series is described as a space for “Diverse Gen Z voices [to discuss] social and political issues,” and “encourage a call to action and sustainable solutions.’
22-year-old actor Ben Levi Ross was the only white person who participated in the virtual roundtable. His advice to white folks during this time? “Shut up and listen.”
“Remove yourself from the situation and amplify as many Black voices as possible, as many Indigenous voices as possible. My anger isn’t really worth anything if it’s not put to use in that way so that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing,” the Dear Evan Hansen actor said.
15-year-old activist Marley Dias echoed and broadened that sentiment with a call to action for passionate people of all backgrounds: “Do the work when it isn’t trending.”
You can watch all five parts, and follow along here.