The chill and drizzle didn’t dampen organizers’ plans on Tuesday afternoon at Montclair High School. A large banner overlooking the amphitheater read MHS in SOLIDARITY, which referenced the purpose of the student gathering: to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Ferguson, MO and to express a firm stance against police brutality and racial profiling.
Despite the dreary day, as soon as the bell rang signaling the end of the day, well over a hundred students came to the amphitheater to stand together and support their opinions with action. A second banner was brought out that read Black Lives Matter, one of the mantras of the current national wave of demonstrations in response to recent deaths involving unarmed Black youth and police officers.
Student leaders spoke to the gathering about the purpose of their presence and to share the iconic social change quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Then they asked students to link arms for four-and-a-half minutes of silence, honoring the four-and-a-half hours Michael Brown’s body was lying in the street after his death. Just before beginning the silence, another organizer invited the Black male students present to put their hands up. It was a powerful moment.
Lillian Emenogu, a Montclair High School student and one of the central organizers or the event, said that they hope to continue demonstrations and awareness-raising activities so that the momentum won’t be lost. “It’s not a one day issue,” she said. “We can’t wait for another situation to get people interested again.”
Emily Pollack, another organizer, echoed that desire, “I hope people at MHS continue to come together to educate, inspire, and talk about racial issues that happen in our school and community.” In reference to her motivation in organizing the event, Ms. Pollack continued that she has seen statistics that compare racial injustice in the USA to the days of Apartheid in South Africa. “People think the millenials are all about social change and justice,” she said, “but the statistics comparing us to Apartheid make me wonder what people will think of our generation in 50 years.”
The students who planned the event prepared scores of papers strung on yarn which shared some of those statistics and facts about human prejudice and racial disparities in arrests and incarceration. When the yarn and papers became tangled prior to the event, one student shrugged with determination and commented that it was like untangling the racial problems of America. With the commitment and creativity we saw in Montclair on Tuesday, the untangling can continue in good company and with committed intentions.
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