Thousands of students participated in a statewide school walkout Monday afternoon April 19 protesting police violence. Students from over a hundred schools in Minnesota organized the walkout over social media a week after former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter killed twenty-year-old Daunte Wright.
Locally, metro area students from nearby high schools gathered together outside of the U.S. Bank Stadium, blocks away from where former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin is awaiting a verdict in his murder trial. He has been charged with second- and third-degree murder in the death of George Floyd.
Students huddled together in the commons where they took turns exchanging a megaphone to share their thoughts and frustrations around the systemic issues surrounding policing. Taylor Butler, a freshman at North Community High School, stepped into the circle and posed a question to her peers.
“The big question is, why is my skin color politicized? My skin color should not be debated for anything,” she said.
When it comes to arguing for Black lives, Butler shared that this wasn’t a debate for her. “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘Oh well, we can still be friends if we have different opinions,’ and it’s like yeah, if ranch goes on pizza, or if Snicker Bars are better than Kit Kats. Not if my skin color is a weapon or not.”
“Protests are super important to give a voice to the youth,” said Yahanna Mackbee, a junior at Washburn High School. “But the decisions that are being made are happening at the state level, and we need to be at the table for that.” Mackbee is a member of the Minneapolis NAACP’s Youth Council Minneapolis chapter.
A majority of participants in Monday’s action were youth, but some adults attended to lend support. Ashley Dorelus praised those in attendance. “I noticed a lot of y’all skipped school for this event. It’s snowing and a lot of y’all are still here. Y’all are literally the next generation, and it is an honor to be here with you right now,” she said.
Dorelus encouraged the young activists to remain undeterred in their efforts to demand justice. “When they tell you that you are too young, tell them about Ruby Bridges,” she said. “When they tell you that you are too young, tell them you’re not too young to witness murder.”
Jerome Treadwell closed the rally with a rendition of the Black national anthem which he played on his saxophone. Treadwell, a junior at Highland Park High School in Saint Paul, is one of the lead organizers of Minnesota Teen Activists, a nonprofit group that helped with the organizing of the walkout.
“It [the walkout] was sparked by the murder of Daunte Wright, and we were able to use that as a catalyst, not of just another post or another hashtag, but of actions. We were able to come together statewide,” he said.
Treadwell said the statewide walkout is a statement from the youth to the adults in power that they do not intend to remain silent any longer. “I think people often mistake that youth are the future, but youth are actually now,” he said.
“Without teaching and molding and giving hope and opportunity for youth to be proactive in our community, it’s impossible for them to create a future that will put us in a position where we’ll be the leaders.”
School districts are preparing for more protests later this week in anticipation of a verdict in the Chauvin case. Minneapolis Public Schools have already instructed students and staff to return to a distance learning model from April 21 to April 23 in order to better avoid any interruptions that may occur following the jury’s decision.