SARATOGA, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Whether you’ve seen him protesting police brutality or raising his concerns at city council, Saratoga Black Lives Matter Leader Lexis Figuereo doesn’t shy away from controversy. 

For years, the local movement’s co-founder has been the subject of headlines and clips passed around online showing BLM blocking streets, facing arrest, and refusing to be silenced at city council meetings. However, Figuereo says what people see in a 30 second social media clip can’t begin to tell his story.

“They want to paint me as a demon, a monster. They label me as a terrorist, because if they had to see me as I am—a dedicated father and a member of this community just like them—they might actually have to take what I say seriously,” Figuereo says during a lengthy interview with NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

“Most people who make judgments on me and my group or any of us don’t actually know us. They’ve actually told us that we are not from Saratoga, we didn’t go to school here, we didn’t do this here, even though on the contrary that’s the opposite of what really happened,” he says.

So what did really happen? Who is Lexis Figuereo and why does he do what he does? NEWS10 asked the local activist to share his story in his own words.

Lexis Figuereo was born in the Bronx in 1987. He says one of his earliest memories is sitting at his mother’s knee learning about his roots.

“My mother taught me on the Black Panthers. Huey P. Newton, people like that, were the people I looked up to,” he explains.

His family moved to Saratoga when he was around seven. They moved into a multiunit home on Union Street where they joined family already in the area.

“We have, again, a lot of generations actually of our family that have lived in Saratoga,” he replies to those who say he has no roots in the Spa City.

However, he says entering the area school system was like night and day compared to the New York City melting pot.

“The day walking into this school was kinda—I’d say kinda scary,” Figuereo says while standing across from Lake Avenue Elementary School. “Our first time in Saratoga, me and my sister when we got on the bus to come to school, we were called the N-word, things like that from kids, heckled at, and that was the first day.”

He says he started standing up for himself and often, but with that came its own consequences. Figuereo says he was punished for truancy, fighting, and eventually ended up in juvenile detention before dropping out of high school.

“[I was] being bullied every day, being picked on, having fights with people, physical altercations with people, teachers and faculty not really doing anything,” he says. “There were other people doing what I was doing, but I was the one taken away from my family. Meanwhile, the people who started the fights, called me the N-word never got in trouble.”

He says he did later acquire his GED, then for many years lived his life always seeing injustices against the Black community, but it took many years before he says he felt called to do something himself.

Fast forward to May 2020 and the death of George Floyd. Figuereo says he finally felt the spirit of activism flare into fruition during the very first Saratoga rally in June. Even after helping to organize, he says initially he never intended to speak.

“The other person who was actually supposed to be co-hosting the event with me was actually sick so they didn’t end up speaking. The media was there so I did my first interview there in Congress Park, and it went from there,” he recalls.

Just like that, the spark that would become Saratoga BLM only grew. From the Spa City all the way down to Albany, Figuereo and his fellow justice-seekers taking to the streets, refusing to be silenced, and picking up charges along the way. 

One July 2021 protest remains at the center of an Attorney General’s Office investigation. The Civil Rights Bureau under AG Letitia James digging into police conduct after protesters were chased and tackled on Broadway, then BLM leaders made the subject of arrest warrants for disorderly conduct but weeks after the actual demonstration.

“There’s a lot of hurt. A lot of anger, sadness, but at least someone is paying attention and I know this is bigger than me,” Figuereo says while standing at the entrance to Congress Park where the July 2021 protest took place.

“Just like the AG’s office ended up doing an investigation—if I have to put myself at risk and that’s because I end up getting 13, 14 charges, so I had to deal with all that, but you know, at the end of the day, the results of it should actually be a positive result,” he adds.

Figuereo’s latest fight in the halls of Saratoga’s City Council. He and his sister, Chandler Hickenbottom, charged with disorderly conduct after disrupting meetings. 

We asked Figuereo about the criticism they’ve received for stopping city business.

“That’s a way to make a person unbelievable is to accuse a person who is the victim of something and make them the enemy or the person who did something wrong,” Figuereo replies.

He says he’s not fazed by those who question their methods, saying sometimes you need to get into “good trouble”.

“I don’t really care about appeasing to the masses. I’m worried about appeasing to the minorities. The people who we are fighting for, the unheard,” he says.

Lexis says it’s not lost on him that any day could be his last, having received threats and facing danger with every demonstration. We asked why continue to put himself on the line.

“It’s a lot,” Figuereo admits. “It puts a toll on you and a toll on your family, a toll on your work life and everything else, but at the end of the day, you know I have three, young, Black kids—biracial kids—who are going to be growing up in this area and I don’t want them to experience the things I experienced when I grew up here.”

Just as equal to their protests, Figuereo says he hopes more take notice of Saratoga BLM’s mission to educate the next generation by holding reading days, LGBT+ safe spaces, and opportunities for local kids to learn art and music.

“That’s a way for us to reach out to the community, to the younger generation. That’s all about getting education and opening up people’s minds to different things and learning each other,” he says.

Saratoga BLM says after three long years of work, they’re proud of the changes accomplished in Saratoga, including a resolution passed by Mayor Ron Kim earlier in May acknowledging racism in the city’s past, establishment of a Police Reform Task Force, and a 50 point reform plan.

They’re also thankful to have inspired active participation and civic engagement in the local Black community.