Fueling a movement

By Delilah Belmont, The Wheatley School,
Alex Nandalall, Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School,
and Ni’yah Preacely, Newfield High School

“I can’t breathe” — an utterance once again heard throughout the nation  — has evoked global frustrations against government and police force due to the disregard for people of color.

The Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum in February, 2012, after the death of Trayvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. The May 25th murder of George Floyd was the spark that reignited the movement.

After a viral video of Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck circulated and outraged people throughout the country, protests began in every state, and dozens of countries called for racial justice and the end of police brutality. 

The movement has shaken up individuals — including New York teenagers, some of who recounted their experiences in the fight for justice and equality. 

Community members gather at a Black Lives Matter protest June 1 at Mineola Justice Court on Washington Ave., in Mineola. (Photo by Delilah Belmont) 

A group of current and former students at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, have created an “anti-racist education” petition and presented it to the school community. The petition demands a more inclusive and diverse and curriculum that addresses institutionalized and individualized racism in America. It states that students “will take an active stand against police brutality and institutionalized racism” and “act consistently to oppose and undo [white supremacy] by committing to developing an anti-racist education.” 

Released virtually to the school community, it has been signed by hundreds of current students, alumni, parents and community members. 

The petition includes short-term demands like embedding anti-racist education resources available on the school’s website, and long-term demands, like modifying the history curriculum to include redlining, police brutality and the prison industrial complex, just to name a few. 

The Wheatley School is predominantly white — approximately 63.7 percent, according to the New York State Education Department. The petition acknowledges this, and states, “This reality contributes to the distancing of ourselves from the truth of racial injustice in our nation’s history and the oppression that continues to strip Black people of their humanity today.”

It states that a “passive” curriculum, which does not highlight racism, “contributes to the persistence of racism, white supremacy, and institutionalized racial violence.”

The school’s Student Equality Club has been behind the petition. The club’s secretary, 16-year-old rising junior Andre Manzano, said the new demands are “necessary to make sure that Wheatley students are entering the world as fully informed and accepting people that are actively anti-racist.”

He said he believes that being educated on true racial justice and its history is just as important as learning about science and math. Students do not plan on giving up anytime soon and they are determined to get true racial justice within their community. 

The club plans to continue advocating for the petition and keep working with the school administrators and board to make the school a more accepting place. 

In Queens, 16-year-old Mia Marshall has become an avid part of the BLM movement in her Jamaica community in recent months. 

“Police brutality needs to end,” she said.

An incoming senior at Queens Gateway to Health Sciences, Marshall has attended two protests in New York City as she fights for equality with hopes that change will occur.

“It’s not okay that I have to walk around with the subconscious fear that something may happen to a family member, or to someone I love, due to the color of their skin,” Marshall said. “As a black woman, I’m outraged that African Americans have been oppressed for hundreds of years. We’ve all gone through the same things just in different ways.” 

The teenager said the issue impacts every person, and emphasized the need for support from individuals of various identities. “Everyone should be outraged,” Marshall said.

Marshall, who attended protests in Queens and Manhattan, said she saw a difference between the crowd at both. More people attended the Manhattan protest and more were white, she said.

“There wasn’t really that much diversity within the [Queens] protest,” she said. “There were really only like African American people.”

In Suffolk County, rising Newfield High School junior Sophie Vitalie, 16, has begun, in recent months, to vocalize her anger and protest to promote change.“People in Selden are so blindly racist,” Sophie Vitalie said.

Protesting, Vitalie said, is “the only way to cause change.”

Vitalie urged others to “keep protesting and showing that the movement isn’t going away. And keep paying attention. It’s something worth fighting for. In my opinion that’s the only way to cause change.”

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