Instead of studying for college entrance exams, worrying about college or just doing silly teenager things, a coalition of Rochester’s youth brought together an estimated 2,000 people to demand change in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“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 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 life matters.”
The event was organized by a group of approximately a dozen high school students, recent high school graduates and college students. It brought a torrent of people together Saturday for a march that began at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park (formerly East Park) and led to Mayo Park, behind Mayo Civic Center, 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 speakers spoke during the event at Mayo Park, before an eight-minute, 46-second period of silence in honor of George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer on Memorial Day, May 25. Protests across the county have been holding the nearly nine-minute moment of silence, as it was the amount of time the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin is now charged with murder, and three of his fellow officers face charges, too.
Shavana Talbert, coordinator of equity for Rochester Public Schools, began her speech with a selection from the 1935 Langston Hughes Poem “Let America Be America Again.” In the more than eight decades since the poem was written, how much has changed, Talbert asked.
“If I sleep at night, I still wake up tired. I'm exhausted, sick and tired of fighting for people to acknowledge that my life matters, to see my humanity, to not fear my blackness, to not racially profile me or make negative assumptions about me,” she said. “To not kill me and then have the nerve to vilify me in the media. To go as far as to say that I deserved it but what we deserve is so much more than we have ever been given.”
The youngest speakers of the afternoon were 11-year-old D'naesha Steven and 10-year-old Jazmin Daing.
“We gathered here today to talk about our black community, rights, freedom and equality, the pair said in unison. “Being black isn't a crime.”
Poet and educator Danny Solis offered an apology to the young organizers and the youth who attended the protest.
“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. I'm sorry,” he said.
Solis said he attended his first protest against police brutality at the age of 10 in Dallas.
"Very little has changed because the system ... is designed to do what it did to George Floyd and to protect the people that do the things that they do to us. The system isn't broken, it's working just fine. So we must abolish the police as they exist today if we are to ever, as people of color, feel safe on our streets.”
Solis and the organizers stressed that the fight for change didn’t end after the rally, but it is an ongoing process.