Young Rochester residents carried forward another weekend of rallies for racial equality in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police May 25.
On Saturday, nearly 2,000 people marched from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park to Mayo Park, where they ended the "Rochester: Black Lives Matter Protest" with a rally and speakers.
Then on Sunday afternoon, about 300 people marched from Silver Lake Park to the city-county Government Center, where they, too, ended with a rally.
Jayden Williams, 19, who helped lead the "Rochester United: March Against Injustice" event Sunday, said the widespread push against racism and for police reform is a reason to believe real change is coming.
He read a list of some of the names of unarmed black people killed by police in recent years, including Jordan Edwards, who was 15 years old when he was shot and killed by police in Dallas.
“Imagine losing someone that young,” Williams said. “The last thing we need to see is kids now have to go through this.”
As marchers crossed the Civic Center Drive bridge across the Zumbro River, Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin handed out orange ribbons for people to tie to the bridge in a symbol of unity.
The day before, on Saturday, a coalition of Rochester’s youth demanded change in the wake of Floyd's death.
“To all of the youth here today, I am so sorry," said Yezi Gugsa, a student at Mayo High School. “I am sorry that these issues are ongoing and that we've had to step in and make the changes that we want to see.”
The 17-year-old asked the crowd to continue to fight for the things they believe in and told them change would come.
“You shouldn't be here today. I shouldn't be here today,” she said. “I shouldn't have to plan a protest that proves that my life matters, that my family's life matters, that every black child's life matters, and that every single black soul here and around the country's life matters.”
Saturday's event was organized by a group of about a dozen high school students, recent high school graduates and college students. It brought a torrent of people together in what was billed as a Black Lives Matter protest.
"This is our future that we want to better," organizer Muntaas Farah said. "We have heard so many times, older generations telling us that we're too young to know this or we don't know enough about it, but we've lived through it, we've seen it, so we want our voices to be the front line, so people understand that it's affecting us as much as its affecting everyone else."
Nearly a dozen people spoke at each weekend event.
“We gathered here today to talk about our black community, rights, freedom and equality,” D'naesha Steven, 11, and Jazmin Daing, 10, said in unison Saturday. “Being black isn't a crime.”
Representatives of older generations also weighed in, encouraging the young leaders and expressing their appreciation for their efforts.
Stephanie Whitehorn talked about conversations she has had to have with her sons about not wearing a hoodie while driving and other steps to avoid risky confrontations with police. She urged the people attending to continue pushing for reform.
"The only thing that’s going to change things is when people begin to change the way they see other people — their neighbors, strangers on the street,” she said.
Danny Solis, a poet and educator, offered an apology to the young organizers Saturday.
“Because I'm 60 years old and me and the rest of the people that are old people, while we haven't failed, because you only fail if you quit trying, we haven't succeeded in changing the world enough to prevent something like this from happening," he said. "I'm sorry."
Rallies planned for later this week
A common theme to recent rallies and protests calling for police reform and addressing systemic racism is "Stick with it, and hold officials accountable."
A virtual event Thursday including city and county leaders, will give attendees that chance.
Rochester Branch NAACP, Rochester Diversity Council, Rochester for Justice, Barbershop Talk and Sierra Club North Star Chapter will host Mayor Kim Norton, Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin, Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem, Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos, County Administrator Heidi Welsch, City Administrator Steve Rymer, County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson and Director of Community Corrections Travis Gransee for a Facebook Live event 6 p.m. Thursday.
“We are encouraging everyone with concerns about justice in Rochester to be part of this important discussion,” said Kamau Landis, president of Rochester for Justice. “It is a tangible way that we can channel our hurt and anger at what happened to our brother George Floyd and so many others, known and unknown, in our communities and our country. It is about accountability and transparency to ensure justice.”
The event will be streamed on the "Rochester for Justice" Facebook page.
Then on Saturday, Rochester Peoples' Action Community will hold a rally in Mayo Park at 2 p.m. honoring people who lost their lives to police brutality.