As Americans were struggling to process the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests over racial discrimination, the high school held a vigil through Zoom– the only way the community could gather during the pandemic.
The event took place on June 3 and was organized by the high school’s faculty and students. It allowed over 400 members of the Brookline community to come together and mourn the death of George Floyd, as well as to confront the injustice and racism in our world today.
Jenee Uttaro, the dean of Old Lincoln School, started off by sharing that the vigil was not just a way to remember George Floyd, but also a way to combat racial injustice.
“We gather as a community to hold space, to self-reflect, to pray, to pay tribute, to make decisions and to commicate our individual and collected anti-racist activism,” Uttaro said.
Uttaro addressed the ways that white Americans can be active allies.
“Healing for all of us is possible. To my white sisters and brothers, make it a point to check in on your black friends. Send a text or an email to ask how they are doing. And wait for the answer. Listen,” Uttaro said. “Look in the mirror, acknowledge the uncomfortable truth you find and be willing to actively address any blindspots.”
Following Uttaro’s words, Dean Summer Williams read an obituary compiled by the organizers, paying tribute to Floyd as a man who was amiable, cheerful and kind. Williams read that Floyd was 46 when he died, and that he had moved to Minnesota to start a better life.
According to his colleagues, Floyd got a job as a nightclub bouncer and was always trying to make people laugh. He had a six-year-old daughter and was known as a protector and provider.
After Williams read Floyd’s obituary, the organizers played a video created by juniors Lexi Danesco and Leila Allen. Images of current protests, tributes to Floyd and children holding up signs saying “I want to grow up” and “I want to live” filled the screen as the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day played in the background. The video highlighted the current issues of racism and police brutality while emphasizing how people of different races are all human and should be treated equally.
In a separate interview, Danesco shared that she hoped the vigil would make people think about the other African American lives that are taken or harmed by the police without being recorded or written about in the news. Though Danesco agreed that the news can be helpful in raising awareness, she also voiced her concern about the media oftentimes incorrectly portraying the Black Lives Matter movement as violent.
“We can be peaceful and the Black Lives Matter movement is a beautiful movement. It’s not necessarily meant to be aggressive and violent,” Danesco said. “We can find peace if we work together.”
Before the vigil ended, 11 students took turns saying the names of 103 African Americans who have died due to police brutality since 2014.The audience was silent as they listened to the names, which filled up minutes.
Her voice cracking with emotion, Dean Lisa Redding closed by announcing that there would be a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds – the time that police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on Floyd’s neck. Throughout the moment of silence, students shared quotes such as: “I…I can’t breathe,” “None of us are free until we are all free” and “How many were not filmed?”
Redding asked students to use the moment of silence as a way not just to reflect on Floyd’s death, but also to think about what it means to be aware.
“Reflect on your own convictions, perhaps the side of history that you have been on thus far,” Redding said. “Think about how we can treat each other with more respect, more dignity, and more humanity. Finally, think carefully about what education you need to do for yourself.”
Danesco hopes that people will continue to combat racial injustice and plans to propel the conversation by organizing a peaceful protest on June 8. She also discussed how members of the Brookline community should be more conscious of the injustice that African Americans have faced at the hands of law enforcement.
“George Floyd and many others have been innocent, unarmed and just minding their day and they’ve been murdered,” Danesco said. “That’s something you don’t see in Brookline, and I obviously hope that never happens in Brookline, but a lot of people know someone who has been murdered and affected by it. We don’t talk about it all the time and we need to. It’s a conversation that is really important.”