Jason Reynolds remembers his childhood friend Mike, a star football player who also explored his creative side. Like Mike, the white abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison was curious, open to improvement, and willing to use his privilege for good. Garrison became famous when the American Colonization Society hired him to give a speech. But he didn’t believe in colonization—he believed in abolition, and he courageously said so in his speech.
Garrison is a key example of how antiracist white people are key to the fight for racial justice. Reynolds makes his courage and dedication relatable to the reader by comparing him to Mike, a familiar type of figure in any high school. Garrison also demonstrates one of antiracism’s key principles: people have to build power in order to make change. Garrison knew that he could boost abolitionist ideas through his speech, so he chose to do what was morally right even though it went against the interests of the organization that hired him.
Garrison was dedicated to spreading the ideas of his friend, the Black abolitionist David Walker, and counteracting anti-Black propaganda. He founded a newspaper called the Liberator and started writing about the need for an immediate end to slavery. But at first, Garrison didn’t believe in immediate equality—he believed in uplift suasion. He changed his mind after the enslaved preacher Nat Turner launched a rebellion in Virginia and slaveholders responded by getting crueler than ever before. In response, Garrison wrote an anti-colonization book, founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, and started distributing millions of antislavery pamphlets.
The media has always served to boost and popularize racist ideas, but Garrison saw its power and decided to use it as a force for good instead. However, like Jefferson—and many of the Black leaders who appear in the rest of the book—Garrison was a complicated, contradictory figure. He fought against slavery, but at first, he was still pushing racist ideas when he did so. It took him years to come around and become an antiracist, too. Unlike Jefferson, then, Garrison was willing to admit and learn from his mistakes. This is what made him such an influential antiracist figure and role model for activists today.