Sasha Ronaghi never expected her idea for an anti-racism media club to go viral.
In fact, she "thought 15 people would respond" to her Instagram story announcing the project.
"I literally downloaded Instagram that day to post this Instagram story," the 17-year-old told USA TODAY.
But less than five days after the California teen posted her solicitation of participants on May 31, 350 people had signed up. Now, three weeks later, the Anti-Racism Education Project has more than 470 participants and 115 organizers from 38 states and 16 countries.
Ronaghi describes the ARE Project as a community "to connect teenagers — young people in high schools and colleges — with resources about raising awareness for the Black community."
Ronaghi said the initial idea for the ARE Project developed out of her observations in the wake of George Floyd's murder and subsequent protests against police brutality and racial inequality. She noticed discussions of racism becoming more prevalent, both online and offline, and wanted to "take part in these conversations and advocate for what I believe in" with knowledge on her side.
"I think as a non-Black person, it is my privilege that I don't have to think about anti-Blackness 24/7," Ronaghi said. "So it was about finding a means to continually educate myself because I don't feel educated whatsoever."
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Evidently, given the club's growth, other 14- to 21-year-olds felt the same.
The group plans to create a content list every month, consisting of a movie, podcast, article and short story, among other mediums. The group will then meet to discuss the content and amplify Black voices throughout the month with a speaker series.
Ronaghi attributes the immediate success of the club to three factors: the rhetoric of education surrounding conversations on racism, COVID-19 forcing many teens to stay home and the desire for dialogue.
Zoom meeting coordinator Emmanuel Flores added that the club has grown because the "national spotlight on these issues" of police brutality and racism necessitates it.
"Seeing that this project is here to give a platform for Black artists of all media is really refreshing," Flores said.
The DePaul University sophomore told USA TODAY that he wished he had access to such a club when he was in high school. That's part of why he joined as an organizer.
Although the ARE Project was initially her idea, Ronaghi said "everything that's kind of come out of this club is 100% what the" other organizers and participants want to do to further the conversation.
"No. 1, I'm not here to educate anybody because I am not Black and that is absolutely not my role," she said. "And No. 2, I'm trying to allow everyone to have their own ideas."
Some of those ideas, Ronaghi said, were starting a blog and creating a documentary project to complement the existing speaker series and media club.
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Ronaghi hopes that participants will use their new knowledge to "continue to advocate to spread awareness their communities, and to step up in conversations."
"We're in this age where we might disagree with our parents, or we might disagree with influential members of our community," she said. "But we don't feel like we can say anything, and it's really about finding strategies to do so."
Flores said the growth of the project does go back to those hopes.
"A meeting, almost a book club, where people come together just to talk about these issues and also educate themselves on anti-racism and anti-blackness is really refreshing" to teens, he said.