Youth of all ages and their families gathered at Fox Park, 624 S. Oak Park Ave., on Saturday, June 27, for a Black Lives Matter rally and protest specifically geared toward educating the younger set on the need for racial equity and empowering them to fight for it. The rally had COVID-19 screening and water on hand to prevent dehydration, supported by Loyola Medical Center.
The rally started off by addressing police brutality toward Black people with a call and response chant; one side of the park yelled, “Am I next?” to which the other side replied, “Not on my watch!”
Sharing messages of unity and justice, local organizers and political figures spoke to the crowd, which consisted of about 200 socially distanced and masked people carrying signs.
Representative La Shawn K. Ford and Oak Park Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla were among the speakers, as was the event’s lead youth organizer Chloe Jennifer Leach. Leach is also a member of Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League (ROYAL), a youth-based organization committed to social justice.
“We have to start standing up for one another,” Leach told the crowd. “We are our ancestors’ dreams.”
The youth attendees then broke out into groups based on age to discuss social issues and how to become a better ally, led by Leach and other teens. The young people then returned to their parents to share what they learned.
“Anytime you have young kids involved, that means they have approval from the parents,” said Ford. “It’s going to take everyone in this fight for justice.”
Ford was particularly pleased to see the vast array of youth who attended. The children participating in the rally ranged from toddlers in diapers to teens in high school.
“I saw one toddler put a sign in the ground that said, ‘Love everyone,'” Ford said. “That’s beautiful. He’s been raised to love, regardless of the color of a person’s skin.”
Children, with their natural honesty and openness, also have the ability to broaden the minds of their parents, Ford believes.
“They have a major impact on their parents,” he said. “As much as we want our children to listen to us, I think parents listen a lot to their children too.”
The death of George Floyd, a Black man from Minnesota who was killed while in police custody, has caused a national reckoning over systemic racism in American society, particularly law enforcement.
“Now we have a movement in the United States to take a new path toward making sure that we have fairness, equity and justice in this country,” Ford said.
Intergenerational discussions regarding racism, both blatant and subtle, can shape the way American citizens choose to grow from the ugliness of its not-so-distant past, he said.
“All these young people, whether you’re black or white, may have had grandparents who did not understand love for all people,” Ford said. “Now, I think people are trying to be understanding.”
The idea for the youth-led rally came from Oak Park resident and father of three, Khari Reed. Reed and his wife wanted to safely include their very young children in Black Lives Matter protests.
“I think we are clean slates when we are born and then racism is poured into us,” Reed said. “This is us educating kids to give them the tools to prevent the infection of racism, to identify it and to strike it down.”