Students Organize, Take to Streets

Students+Organize%2C+Take+to+Streets

Audrey Pinson

Katie Holekamp, Reporter

Shouts of “Black Lives Matter”, “No Justice, No Peace”, and “Say His Name: George Floyd” could be heard around the world this past summer. Thousands of masked protesters gathered in the streets to fight for racial equality and an end to systemic racism. At the forefront of this fight were students and teachers dedicated to educating their peers, leading discussions, and creating a new generation of activists to bring about substantial and sustainable change. George Floyd’s death at the hands of police on May 25, 2020 reminded the world of the continued racism and prejudice black people face in America. It sparked an international outcry for justice. This came in the form of thousands of protests around the world, including 60 countries outside of the United States, all 50 states, and all 5 permanently inhabited territories. As of July 3, there had been over 4,700 demonstrations. This adds up to approximately 140 per day since the first protest in Minneapolis on May 26. And over 15-26 million Americans had participated in at least one protest, according to four polls done in early June. While precise turnout is difficult to gauge due to the nature of protests, these numbers show the widespread desire to bring about awareness and change.

This eagerness to St. Louisans as well, prompting hundreds of protests in our city this past summer. These were organized by groups such as ExpectUs, RespectUs.   Tent Mission STL, Occupy City Hall STL, Protest THAT, Action St. Louis and Clos-etheWorkhouse. However, some of the largest protests this summer were led and attended by students, and it is these that have raised significant awareness in our age demographic.

On June 6, hundreds of students and teachers gathered at North Kirkwood Middle School to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Organized by the Kirkwood School District Teachers of Color, this peace walk strove to bring people together from all ages. Assistant High School Principal, Romona Miller, stated, “These are things that are not necessarily taught to our children, so to be a part of living history is huge for them and so it’s important for them to be involved in this,” as reported by 5 On Your Side. The event lasted for about two hours, leading protestors on a one-mile walk from the middle school to Kirkwood High School. Chanting could be heard throughout the whole event, only stopping for a moment of silence in the middle of the march to remember the lives lost to police brutality.

THE CALL TO END SYSTEMIC RACISM IN AMERICA WAS NOW DISTINCTLY PRESENT IN LADUE AND COULD NO LONGER BE IGNORED.

Driven by a desire to do anything to help the situation, Victoria Neal, an eighteen-year-old Ladue High School graduate, began the organization “Speak Truth to Power” with a few of her friends in early June. This organization led protests throughout this past summer, most notably a march down Lindbergh. The goal of this march was to focus attention on an area of St. Louis that is not often talked about when discussing the racial and economic divide. As Victoria stated, “If you go all the way up Lindbergh or all the way down Lindbergh, you can see all the diversity that we have in St. Louis and the economic gap that is there, and it is something that isn’t discussed and needs to be changed,” as reported by 5 On Your Side. As with the Kirkwood peace walk, the protests organized by Speak Truth to Power remained peaceful, with leaders focusing mainly on educating their peers and others within their community.

Additionally, members of the Burroughs community have played large roles in the local social engagement that was seen this past summer. On Friday, June 5, hundreds of Burroughs, MICDS, and Ladue students gathered at the St. Louis Public Library on Lindbergh to march down Clayton Road. Leading the efforts, along with Speak Truth to Power, were seniors Delaney Frank, Leyla Fern King, Jillian Mays, Kylie Goldfarb, Alexis Spittal, and Udonne Eke-Okoro, who came together over a shared interest in figuring out some way to support the movement. In asking Delaney Frank, one of the protest organizers, how their movement came to be, she explained that they simply made a group chat to begin brainstorming ideas. Soon, they were reaching out to people from every grade and recent graduates located in the St. Louis area to gain input and support. The majority of people they heard from wanted to support Black Lives Matter, but felt wary about attending protests in the city after hearing reports of violence on the news. Because of this, the organizers wanted to ensure people from the community would feel comfortable coming out to show support. With this in mind, the idea of a protest focused on awareness in Ladue arose. While holding the march in Ladue encouraged increased attendance, it also served a greater purpose: “The driving factor of holding the protest on Clayton Road was raising awareness and involving those who have the means to enact change, but also the privilege to distance themselves from the issue,” Frank said. The goal was to walk in view of homes that may be separated from current events by wealth, ensuring that the Black Lives Matter movement could no longer be ignored. The organizers also realized it was important to keep the protest completely peaceful, not only to guarantee the safety of those present but also to prove that there are other aspects of the movement that the media often does not show. In order to do this, they coordinated with the mayor and the police, alerting them of their plans for the march.

Frank also noted that they had to consider how comfortable people would be protesting during a global pandemic. While they hoped for a large attendance, the organizers also understood that many people prioritized protecting themselves and their family from COVID-19. In order to provide multiple ways to be involved, Frank and her fellow coordinators encouraged those who could not attend in person to gather and donate supplies. Such donations included packages of water bottles or cardboard or poster board signs with slogans in support of the movement. With multiple levels of engagement, there were ways for anyone to get involved. Finally, after weeks of planning the march, getting the word out through social media, and coordinating with other schools and organizations, hundreds of students and adults from across St. Louis gathered at the St. Louis public library. Masked and socially-distanced, the protesters began their walk down Lindbergh Boulevard to the town of Clayton. Signs with “Black Lives Matter”, “Silence is Violence”, and “We Need Justice” were raised into the sky. Shouts could be heard throughout the streets and neighborhoods surrounding the protesters. The call to end systemic racism in America was now distinctly present in Ladue and could no longer be ignored. People previously oblivious were forced to confront the issue head-on and listen to what students had to say.

The protest was an overall success, having completed its main goal of raising awareness and educating the community. It was a powerful example of the power and influence of our peers here at Burroughs, and because of protests like these across the United States, police reforms have been proposed on the federal level and in jurisdictions in over 20 states.

These young activists feel they have an obligation to continue the fight for equality. This starts with talking about the issue, and, as we often say here at Burroughs, bursting the bubble that surrounds our community. Frank points out that this includes talking about St. Louis as a whole, acknowledging both the city and other counties outside of Ladue. Additionally, if one wishes to go beyond just discussing the issue with friends and family, they can work to advocate for its remedy by speaking to local and national representatives. With the work being done by Frank and others, it is clear that people of all ages are able to engage in political activism, and that voting is not the only way to spark change. It is the hope of many that Burroughs and other similar institutions continue to focus efforts on educating people about these movements and their history. Many students, including Frank and the other organizers, also hope to see an Activism Club created in the next few years. This club would work to educate people about various issues and foster a united front to deal with them. However, these are just beginning steps, and there is more that can be done by the community, especially if we follow the lead of these passionate students who came together in an impactful way this past summer.