OAKLAND — Organizer Alexis Hart McDowell’s father marched in 1968 during the Civil Rights protests in Chicago, and this week he helped his own grandchildren make signs to denounce the racism that has plagued this country since then — and centuries before.
McDowell represented one of the three generations of her family present at the Kids Non-Violent Protest Against Racism that she helped organize Saturday morning. She, along with a handful of youth from the Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. and Rev. Jesse Jackson, spoke to the thousands of people gathered outside the Rainbow Push Coalition Headquarters in Kenwood at the end of the march.
“We are tired, but when I look upon all of the youth here today, my hope is not lost,” McDowell said. “We have reinforcements in this new generation – they see the poison of racism faster, they hear it quicker and they know how it can kill in an instant, or in eight minutes and 46 seconds.”
The events, hosted by the Chicago Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc., began at Mandrake Park, where people of all ages gathered, touting Black Lives Matter balloons and spreading messages of unity and anti-racism.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Ald. Sophia King (4th) helped kick off the march south on Drexel Boulevard.
“I’m not going to say much because I have been saying a lot the last couple days and it’s time that we let the young people speak. It’s time that we sit back and we listen,” Foxx said.
“You, young people, will have to answer for those ahead of us about what we did in this moment. And in this moment, you all are showing up, showing out and saying that you have had enough,” she said.
Of the throngs of children present at Saturday’s event, 14-year-old Katie Williams of Bronzeville spoke to the power of the youthful presence. This was the second march she’s attended — the first being a youth climate strike in Chicago.
“It’s important to promote the youth and to promote change for Black lives because it is overdue,” she said as James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” played on the speaker.
“It is very moving because there are many ages here coming together to push forth the cost of Black lives and how to promote the end of police brutality so we can have equity to provide for the quality that we need,” Williams said.
Her brother, 12-year-old Kenneth P. Williams II, said “Basically we’re trying to make sure no white cops – or any cops – kill any Black men – or any other people – for no reason.”
Zion Hohenkirk, 8, of Bronzeville said it was important that he was present at the rally “because innocent Black people are being killed by the police, people have had enough of that.”
The message Hohenkirk wanted to send was “Black lives matter and stop killing innocent Black folks. … We are all united and we are all in this together.”
Yvonne Blake, President of the Jack and Jill of America Chicago Chapter, said it was time to hear the children’s perspective and recognized the intersectionality of those present.
“Change is inevitable. We want to control the narrative, we want to make a change, we need people to vote, and the only way anything will change is by our action, not just talking about it,” Blake said.
18-year-old Aaron Brown spoke to the crowd, touching on the importance of civic engagement, in light of his experiences of police brutality at the protests in downtown Chicago following the murder of George Floyd.
“This is why activism is so important, this is why we have to fight the system with peace in every way we can, because if we become complacent, then nothing will ever really change,” Brown said. “We must build each other up so we can be the change that we want to see in this country.”
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