Book notes: Make Change by Shaun King

Make Change by Shaun King book summary review and key ideas.

Get the audiobook on Audible 👇

Make Change: How to Fight Injustice, Dismantle Systemic Oppression, and Own Our Future by Shaun King


Activist and journalist Shaun King reflects on the events that made him one of the most prominent social justice leaders of our time and lays out a clear action plan for you to join the fight.

As a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, Shaun King has become one of the most recognizable and powerful voices on the front lines of civil rights in our time. His commitment to reforming the justice system and making America a more equitable place has brought challenges and triumphs, soaring victories and crushing defeats. Throughout his wide-ranging activism, King’s commentary remains rooted in both exhaustive research and abundant passion.

In Make Change, King offers an inspiring look at the moments that have shaped his life and considers the ways social movements can grow and evolve in this hyper-connected era. He shares stories from his efforts leading the Raise the Age campaign and his work fighting police brutality, while providing a road map for how to stay sane, safe, and motivated even in the worst of political climates. By turns infuriating, inspiring, and educational, Make Change will resonate with those who believe that America can – and must – do better.” -Audible

~If you enjoy my summary, please consider buying me a coffee via my Ko-Fi link (click the button below) or become a recurring donor as a YBC Scholar! 📖 🎓

I appreciate every donation as it goes directly to the maintenance costs of my blog and creation of new content. 😊

Buy Me a Coffee at

Opening thoughts:

I follow Shaun King on social media and heard about this book when he was publicizing it. I believe like what he’s going to discuss in this book is so relevant in today’s age with our political climate and our society at large. I imagine this will be very insightful and very similar to the messages that he pushes on his social media platforms. I’m really looking forward to also learning a bit about him as I read that this will also be part-memoir and go into his backstory.

Key notes:

  • The foreward by Bernie Sanders says this book is all about how organized people are powerful and can make meaningful change
  • Shaun said that the day he saw the Eric Garner video was a day that changed his life
    • He wasn’t expecting it to because that day seems like every other day
    • But this is the first time someone caught police brutality and murder completely on film for the world to see. “A viral video of someone being killed by police simply did not exist” up until that point
    • The murder of Eric Garner was a modern day lynching caught on film. There was no justification for his death
  • There was a history in this country of unarmed, nonviolent black men and women meeting brazen killers who refused to value black lives
    • The difference here was we saw a murder with our own eyes
  • Despite chokeholds being banned in 1993, the NYPD gets over 200 complaints per year about the use of them by police
  • Between 2015-2019, police have shot and killed an average of 3 people per day. But none of them were getting national intention
  • Since then, he’s been speaking up against police brutality and left his job a month later to do so
    • The sparks of his and others efforts would later become the Black Lives Matter movement
  • The actions of ICE may have been legal, but what we retrospectively come to call crimes against humanity almost always are
    • It’s the increased frequency of these inhumane attacks that makes our current environment so overwhelming
    • But it is essential that we fight back

Part One: Our Roots, My Roots 

Chapter 1: The Dip

  • It’s hard to fully understand a moment in history when you are in it
  • History books have a way of erasing everything that makes us fully human. They skip from highlight to highlight, crisis to crisis. But that’s not actually how time unfolds
  • In 2014, Tamia rice was killed and no justice was given for Eric garner’s death
  • Justice was the release the country needed, but it was being denied over and over again
  • He felt sick that he was becoming more famous as an activist but still failed to get justice when justice seemed rightfully deserved
  • Leopold von Ranke was a historian that charted human history from ancient civilizations until his modern time
    • He documented all of the periods and eras in this massive undertaking
    • He then placed everything in chronological order to see if there were any consistent trends in human behavior over time
  • He found that human beings perpetually alternated back-and-forth between improvement and regression, peace and war, provision and famine, unity and dissension, freedom and captivity, good and evil
    • Von Ranke proved that history really does repeat itself 
  • We have confused our deep desire for the steady improvement of humanity with the actual steady improvement of technology over time
  • Those low periods in human society are way he refers to as the dip
    • Dips in human history are where we see deep, systemic, widespread suffering and oppression. Where we find genocide and famine, slavery and war
  • Any nation that has an economy driven by free labor has a high likelihood of explosive growth
    • Therefore, the American economy boomed at the expense of its integrity and humanity
  • Strangely, there were more protections for African-Americans as property compared to after the Reconstruction Era
    • The collective ire of white America came down on this newly freed population in the worst ways
  • The Nixon campaign and administration admitted and knew the War on Drugs was fake, but they used it against their political enemies: the antiwar left and Black people
    • They couldn’t make being either of those illegal, so the war on drugs and getting the public to associate weed and heroin with hippies and Black people and criminalizing them heavily allowed them to disrupt those communities and arrest their leaders
  • To say the criminal justice system is broken is not quite accurate. This system was built deliberately with nefarious goals in mind
    • It was intended not only to protect white power and privilege, but to disrupt and punish black communities in the worst ways imaginable
      • That system is not broken, it is firing on all cylinders 
  • Mass incarceration is a type of modern day, legalized slavery.
    • It is the new Jim Crowe, consciously created to keep Black people as second class citizens, not only being stripped of their right to vote but other freedoms and as a result of being convicted of a crime
  • Breaking the streak of 43 white presidents by the first black president as the 44th caused you’re very particular group of people do you have a meltdown due to disturbing the status quo
  • When a game changing innovation is introduced and disturbs the primary people in power, a dip always follows
    • When a nation is in a deep dip, anything can happen
  • Donald Trump was merely a symptom of a dip we were already in because of the white angst
    • However, he’s doing everything in his power to maintain the dip
    • Removing one single person, however, will not change anything because Donald Trump didn’t create these systems that existed long before
  • Trump, full-fledged bigot that he is, rose to power on the back of white male insecurities
    • Looking back, Obama‘s policies weren’t even radical, but who he was and his humanity is
  • The human capacity for cruelty and violence is a bottomless well
    • This dip we now find ourselves in can absolutely worsen if we don’t come together to organize our way out of it

Chapter 2: My Story

  • In high school, he was bullied by older white and who were irritated at his presence, a white looking kid eating with black people and breaking convention
  • A group of white boys isolated him and forced him and his former white friend to fight
    • It resulted in him getting suspended, one of the largest racial fights in their school history, and confederate flag paraphernalia being banned
    • People regarded him as the reason for it, and started to get incessantly bullied by white rednecks
  • Another moment that changed his life was when he was badly beaten almost to death by a group of white students
  • The next two years of high school would be spent recovering via physical rehab, therapy and surgeries
  • He and his mom started a lawsuit against the school in the district. But when he went to college he decided to drop the lawsuit because he needed to move forward

Part Two: What You Must Do

You have more power and potential you save the world and make it a better place than you think.

Chapter 3: to make change, you must first make a choice

  • In college, he was incubated from having to survive and was able to grow and thrive with his fellow students
    • He was that self-proclaimed “woke guy”
  • The systems they were pleading with for justice were never designed to give such a thing to Black people
    • On the contrary, they were designed for the enslavement and punishment of Black folk
  • After he graduated, he hung up his activism hat for 13 years until he got that message about Eric Garner
    • But every day he tried to help people in some way
  • In 2014 at the age of 34 he made the decision to focus his whole life on fighting mass incarceration and police brutality
    • When he made this decision, it was as though everything in his world aligned. It clicked. 
  • He recommends reflecting on one problem that you can dedicate your whole life to solve and making that your problem to solve
    • Complex, systemic problems only get solved by people who make hardcore decisions to solve them
    • We solve problems that we’re determined to solve

Reader’s note: If I had to pick one thing for me personally that I would love to solve, something that I can be determined to fight for, it’s against bullying among kids and students. This is something I should look into and see what existing organizations are out there that I could possibly contribute my efforts toward.

  • We have to accept that we are not superheroes and need to focus on one problem
    • He also suggests accepting that the one problem that breaks your heart may not be important to many other people
Advice regarding other causes:
  1. Encourage awareness of other causes. You can care about as many causes as you want, but you can fight only one real battle
  2. Make a financial contribution to other causes
  3. Try to listen carefully and learn how the other causes you care about might have interesting intersections with the main cause you support

Chapter 4: forget your excuses

  • So many famous and influential activists throughout history were very young, not even adults
    • Young people have been bravely speaking truth to power for thousands of years
    • You aren’t too young, you’re just right
  • You aren’t too old to fight for change
    • Your ability to bring a multi-generational perspective to the problems of our world is urgently needed
  • No matter how busy you are, you must schedule actual, hard-core time into your daily life to fight for change
    • We all have time, we just have to be more thoughtful with how we use it in our day today
  • Doing good is far less about aptitude and more about imagination
    • The question is not whether you’re smart enough to do the work. The question is: how will you use your intellect for good?
  • If you were being pulled to make a difference in the world, listen to that gut feeling
  • Whether you intend it to or not, your silence functions as complicity
    • In many ways, the silence of the masses gives the bad actors and evil doers among us permission to carry-on
  • He wished someone had told him early on that he is going to fail
    • You will fail not because you were insufficient as a person or a leader, or because your voice isn’t affective
    • You are going to fail because failure is a part of this process
  • Bernie Sanders is one of his heroes because he never gives up despite all of the losses

Chapter 5: learn by doing

  • They learned through parenthood that all of the books they read didn’t prepare them
    • The hardest things in parenting are best learned by doing them. The same goes for most activities in life
  • You get good at a skill and then spread the word and responsibilities to those around you. That’s how making change works
  • The principles of corporate capitalism where are the primary objective is profit often at all costs, are not the same principles required to make change
    • Successful movements for change function with completely different metrics and operational paradigms
    • Their goal is not profit, status, title, or credit. Their sole goal is change
  • He’s not saying to read less, but to do more
    • Once you get outside of your shell and push past your fear, you’ll start to read and experience these books on change with a new perspective

Chapter 6: what is your gift? Use it

  • Ask yourself: what unique skills, training and expertise do I have?
    • How can I leverage that for social good?
    • What is the one thing I love doing so much that I would do it for free?
    • What do I do in the world that brings me joy?
    • What gives me energy?
    • What is the thing I most look forward to doing?

Part 3: What Every Movement Needs

Being right, good, and moral is not enough. We also need to organize and put in work to make change.

Chapter 7: energized people

  • The current social order and status quo is directly linked to keeping certain people in power and prevent others from ever threatening
    • Consequently, it is enforced, protected, and defended at great expense
    • When you try to tinker with the status quo, the pushback will be fierce
  • We must harness those moments of despair, anger, and hopelessness, and channel it all into tangible action
    • The first step to making change is making sure there are highly energized people in every social movement
  • Online activism is not the same as on-the-ground activism
    • Social media can be a part of an organizing strategy, but it’s simply not enough to get us out of the dip
  • Energy starts movements
    • It creates awareness and brings people together. It builds momentum. But energy alone is not enough
  • We must be careful not to confuse our most energized moments with change itself 
    • Too often we are highly energized but very loosely organized

Chapter 8: organized people

  • Everything that we know and love about the visible civil rights movement came out from the invisible work that was private and unseen
    • The people who did this work were foundational to the movement but never got the visibility or credit
  • The most organized groups and campaigns in the world welcome in new volunteers and donors
    • It’s important to make these pathways to volunteerism and donating wide and easy to navigate
  • Organizing deeply means making the process human and connecting with people
  • Effective, active communication is essential to deep organizing
  • Change is not just about what you know, but it’s often about who you know
  • When a community is both highly energized and deeply organized, it will have a dramatically greater capacity for impact and change

Chapter 9: sophisticated plans

  • Having energized and organized people without a well-conceived plan is like having a beautiful, big porch for a tiny house
  • His efforts to help Haiti helped temporarily, but he regrets not having a plan which would have done more long-term good in retrospect 
  • Our well-intentioned, spontaneous generosity rarely shift systems
    • It helps in the moment, and the moments do matter
    • But our short bursts of good deeds aren’t making the tangible, sustainable, measurable change that we all want to see
  • Your best plans are only as affective as the ability of every day people to repeat them back to you
    • Plans give us the gift of longevity
    • They allow us to use our imaginations to craft a better, more just vision for our world
    • They give us hope and help us endure the inevitable tragedies and setbacks that are sure to come

Part 4: Stay Human

Chapter 10: mistakes and rebounding from failure

  • The Real Justice PAC was formed to get granular about the problems within the legal system and advocate for solutions directly to the public
  • The mission of Real Justice was to help create change starting at the local level by electing good, moral DAs

“All politics is local”

Old adage
  • Lesson: people vote for their own interests
    • That’s what gets people to the polls
  • He is an abolitionist at heart. He wants to see the system and structures of mass incarceration completely torn down
    • The laws and the selective application of the laws are all about power and control, not about justice or fairness or safety
  • Sometimes to win key battles you have to campaign on more than revolution
    • You have to except that not everybody sees the world the way you see it
    • In order to get some of what you want done you may have to pitch it differently
  • Organizing to win is a lot different than organizing for awareness or solidarity
  • Wins are hard to come by. When you have them, celebrate
    • And when you don’t, try your best to learn whatever you can from the losses and keep moving forward
    • Above all, be honest about your mistakes

Chapter 11: burn out and revolutionary self-care

  • To be alive in this age is to be hyper informed of all that is good and all that is horrible in this world
  • Empathizing and absorbing other peoples pain and using that to fuel his activities with the urgency is both his greatest superpower and his greatest weakness
  • For any of us to be affective citizens, particularly if our goal is serious systemic change, we have to practice compassionately telling people No and pointing them to other people and resources that’s can better serve them. This is never easy for him
  • Lesson: do your best and accept that some outcomes are out of your control 
  • Music therapy is a real thing and so is laughter
  • When you are down, try changing the soundtrack of your life
  • Self-care is like hydration. If you are feeling thirsty, you’re already behind
    • Make self-care a part of your life when you are well, and the disciplines, boundaries, and habits you establish will be there when you need it the most
  • The process of making change requires you to be as healthy and whole as humanly possible, and that nobody is going to care about your wellness more than you

Chapter 12: it’s on us

  • We have to understand the change we want to see in the world it’s not going to happen until we stand up, until we organize and make it happen ourselves
  • The American government was not created for equality, or harmony, or fairness, or any other warm and fuzzy purpose. It was created for white power
    • Even more specifically, it was created to protect and advance privileged white men
    • Anything it does beyond that narrow scope has to be forced
  • Corporations with rare exceptions are no different
    • They exist primarily to produce profits and build wealth for their shareholders
    • They regularly bulldoze over people in the pursuit of profits
  • He felt just a sliver of relief when Rodney Reed’s execution was stopped and the appeal was allowed due to all of the efforts of everyone who join the cause
  • Time is full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, progress and failures
    • But those are made by us, which means we all have an ability to make an impact. It’s on us

Executive Summary:

Join YBC Scholars to get unlimited access to all Executive Summaries

Get the executive summary points when you subscribe today.

These include:

  • 1-2 line quick summary
  • Categories & themes
  • Best quotes
  • Most important key ideas
  • Action items & main takeaways

Closing thoughts:

Such a great book on exactly the title: making change. As someone who follows Shaun on social media and appreciates all of the work he does to help fight against police brutality and for criminal justice reform, I loved being able to read about Shaun King the person. Not just the internet “celebrity/influencer/activist” but who he is as a human. The man behind the curtain. I’m so glad that the energy and effort he puts into helping families across the country comes from deep, authentic empathy towards his fellow humans.

When it comes to social media and the internet, you can always find the type of information you want. It’s also very easy to be swayed by what an unverified source of information says about someone. From what I’ve heard, there’s a lot of misinformation about Shaun online, and for good reason. He’s a huge target for those who want to maintain the status quo. But after reading about his backstory, where he came from, and getting a look into his mind, I’m even more supportive of the work he does.

More importantly, I am inspired to make change myself. Shaun spends some time talking about his past, but he gives a LOT of great frameworks and action steps for us readers on how we can get involved in causes that matter deeply to us. He stresses how important it is to find a purpose to get behind so that you can go to sleep knowing you did your best to make the world a better place (at least that’s my takeaway from what this book).

Overall, HIGHLY recommend this book. It’s both timely and classic. Relevant for today’s political and social climate, but also a great framework for making a difference in the world and leaving a positive impact for your fellow humans.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

My one takeaway would be a clear and straightforward one:

  • Figure out my gift and find an organization that fights for a cause I feel deeply about

As I mentioned in my reader’s notes, my first starting point would probably be against bullying among kids and students. Another would be education and helping underserved students access higher quality education.

I’m not sure where my search will take me, but it’s exciting to think about getting behind something you believe in. I think finding your purpose and a cause you can focus on can really give you a lot of energy. Like Shaun, I hope I find something that “clicks” for me.


Activist and journalist Shaun King tells his backstory, as well as gives the frameworks and steps to help enact positive social change in today’s world.

Similar books:


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Subscribe for More Summaries👇

Success! You're on the list.

Try Audible for audiobooks 📚🎧

Personal recommendation: For the last 6 years, I’ve used Audible to listen to all of my favorite books. It’s easy to use, cost-effective, and they have the best library of audiobooks.

If you use my affiliate links below, not only will you get a special offer, but it’ll help support the costs to maintain this blog! 😊👇

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Audible Gift Memberships 

Please donate! 🙂

Please consider a small donation to help support my blog ^_^ I love providing free book notes and other content. Any donations help me maintain my website and create content consistently. Thanks everyone for the continued support!

2.00 $

5 thoughts on “Book notes: Make Change by Shaun King”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: