BHS students organize protest to support Black Lives Matter movement

BHS+students+and+staff+gave+speeches+during+the+June+8+protest+to+support+the+Black+Lives+Matter+movement.+One+of+the+speakers%2C+Junior+Kazi+Stafford%2C+stands+in+front+of+the+high+school+to+deliver+his+speech.+

ZOE TSENG/SAGAMORE STAFF

BHS students and staff gave speeches during the June 8 protest to support the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the speakers, Junior Kazi Stafford, stands in front of the high school to deliver his speech.

Members of the high school community filled the sidewalk in front of 115 Greenough as student organizers gathered on the steps in front of the atrium holding signs that read “Black power” and “I’d like to speak to the manager of systemic racism, please.”

On June 8, juniors Miles Hart, Justin Lurie and Lexi Danesco led a protest at the high school to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Both students and teachers spoke about racism they’ve experienced and what it means to be an active ally.

The idea came from Hart, who FaceTimed his friend at 1 a.m. on June 4 to talk about what they could do.

“We felt like, as a school, we hadn’t come together yet. I felt like we had to do something,” Hart said. “The original idea was for us to march to the police station and kneel for eight minutes there, but then the administration got a hold of it. They thought it would be better for us to do it here because it could have gotten out of hand quickly.”

Although the 1 p.m. protest remained at the high school, many students marched to the police station after the event. The high school protest consisted of speeches, the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day sung by junior Alex Murray and sophomore Sofia Velinzon, and a moment of silence that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds to represent the amount of time George Floyd was pinned by an officer, before his death.

Danesco said she was happy with the turnout of the protest because the crowd demonstrated that the Black Lives Matter movement is more than just black people fighting against racism.

“It’s all races against racist people. You had adults, little kids and teenagers. That’s also what the movement is about; people of all ages and all different backgrounds and identities coming together,” Danesco said.

During the protest, sophomore Obioma Ukomadu talked about the challenges of being a person of color in America, and he expressed his frustrations in having his culture be taken away from him.

“As a black guy, I would like to say that white America has taken too much from us,” Ukomadu said. “They take our artifacts to put into their museums. They take our fashion and dance moves as their own. And they take our lives and they expect us to stay silent. We won’t stay silent.”

Following Ukomadu, 9th grade physics teacher Graciela Mohamedi urged the crowd to step up and do more than just recognize black lives.

“Black Lives Matter is a minimum. Educators of Brookline are behind you, because we know that black lives do more than matter,” Mohamedi said. “Black voices are powerful and necessary. So let’s not set the bar low. This is Brookline, we are better than a low bar.”

Junior Mia Pujols Briceno told a story about witnessing her dad get ticketed by a police officer when she was 12. He had been picking her up from cello practice when the officer stopped them. Pujols Briceno said at the time she didn’t understand why her dad had gotten the ticket, but now she sees why.

“The day that the cops pulled us over, my dad said that one day I would understand, and dad, I want to tell you that I understand. I understand that you got pulled over because of the color of your skin,” Pujols Briceno said. “I am the daughter of a black man and I am proud to say that.”

Spanish teacher Alisa Conner shared what she called a five step antiracism program for white people.

“Step one is not to educate yourself. That’s step zero,” Conner said. “Step one is get riled up and stay riled up. But let us be careful not to perform our outrage, grief, or wokeness on social media.”

The other steps she talked about included talking to relatives about racism, donating and supporting organizations led by people of color, contacting legislators to pass policies that address racial injustice in systemic ways and recognizing the connections between racism and other social justice issues.

Head of School Anothony Meyer recognized the racism at the high school and said that right now, it’s his job to listen to students.

“I would also acknowledge there is institutional racism in and around BHS. That’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s something that is true,” Meyer said. “In terms of recruiting, hiring and retaining staff of color is incredibly important. Looking at our curriculum and making sure it represents all of our students is work that our educators put a lot of effort into.”

Junior Betel Tekleghiorghis made the crowd realize how deep white privilege runs by asking the audience if they would give up their whiteness. She asked questions like: “Would you ever give up the privilege of being late to your appointment and having nobody attribute it to your race?” and “Would you give up the privilege of finding TV shows that overwhelmingly represent your race?”

Tekleghiorghis ended her speech by emphasizing that racial injustice needs to continue to be addressed until permanent change is brought about.

“For my white allies, I’m begging you to not use our lives as a trend. Do not forget about this movement after our country goes back to normal. Do not get tired of having the same conversation,” Tekleghiorghis said. “Please don’t take away my hopes and the hopes of your other black peers.”