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Celebrating Black History Makers: Kwyn Townsend Riley Rallies Front Lines Of Black Lives Matter Movement

CHICAGO (CBS) -- CBS Chicago is proud to celebrate those in our community who are empowering history that has yet to be made.

Today, our nation's youth are picking up the baton from prominent civil rights activists to make sure their message is heard.

CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker introduced us Wednesday night to one face in the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement – activist Kwyn Townsend Riley.

"I still remember going downtown and seeing cop cars burning," Townsend Riley said "I remember the feeling of being pepper-sprayed."

Townsend Riley was among the thousands in Chicago protesting the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police last year.

"The response is to the murders and the senseless killings and the injustices that Black people, we have endured," Townsend Riley said.

Her role was not just to join the fight, but to rally the soldiers.

Townsend Riley now works part time for one of the national organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement.

"It goes beyond just like tweeting and like posting on Facebook," she said. We use Google maps to actually go ahead and figure out a route to it. We have different people assigned to various roles like scouting, making sure the space was safe."

Townsend Riley's work also includes "going out in the snow in the cold, providing blankets, giving out free groceries."

Just who is this young woman, following in the footsteps of iconic activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Malcolm X, and her own list of greats – "Harriet Tubman, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Ida B. Wells."

In her own words, Townsend Riley is a "Black queer feminist." She is a 27-year-old Chicago South Sider who notes she was raised by a single mom.

She is a graduate of Kenwood High School and the University of Dayton, and is currently a grad student in education at Western Illinois University.

Tucker asked Townsend Riley what ignited the activism we see today.

"When heard about Tamir Rice and Eric Garner specifically, that's when I was fed up," she said. "I was tired."

She was still in college.

"There is a deafening type of experience when you are Black and you are attending a historically white space, and nobody is talking about something that literally could happen to you," Townsend Riley said.

That defining moment now defines her life.

"I care about people being able to live, and to have the resources that they need to not only just survive, but to thrive – and it make s me feel a lot better knowing that what I can do is helping people," Townsend Riley said. "I will continue fighting as long as I'm able to do so. It's my duty."

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