After the statewide high school walk outs against racism on April 19, the Crow River News spoke to two teen activists from St. Michael-Albertville High School about the event, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and how they are making their voices heard as young people.
Alinase Phiri and Miikenzie Wesseh are both seniors at STMA High, and were among the group of students who helped organize the April 19 walk out.
Q: What does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you?
Phiri: The Black Lives Matter movement should not be political. Why is there outrage when I take a stand and say my life matters as much as every other person? I am watching people that look like me die in the hands of the police at a disproportionate rate. I am watching it happen right in my home state. Philando Castile, George Floyd, and Daunte Wright were murdered here in the twin cities. What about the black man and women who died at the hands of police we don’t know about? I feel like I am suffocating because I constantly have to mourn another black person killed. I can’t even say it hit close to home because it did hit home. They died right in our backyard. I advocate for black lives because I don’t want to be the next name on a headline.
Wesseh: The Black Lives Matter movement means so much more to me than what people think. This movement not only represents minorities, but it represents those who faced discrimination based off of their sexuality and/or gender. “Black Lives Matter” represents hope for reform in our community. Every time I see a killing of a black person, or any minority, it feels like a personal loss. Like I lost a brother or sister. Seeing a community of people who understand injustice and took time to educate themselves makes my heart warm. It makes me feel like my voice is heard and that the person who passed is being remembered and mourned properly. Seeing families that were affected in some way by police brutality getting help from their community shows our unity and how strong we stand together.
Q: Tell me a bit about the process of organizing the walk-out — Was it difficult getting other students to show up? Were you nervous about anything?
Phiri: The walk-out was very last minute. We knew that @mnteenactivists would plan a state-wide walk-out, but I did not think we would be able to arrange one at STMA in time. On Monday morning, we decided we would go ahead and have the walk-out, even if no one showed up. When we got outside, we found a crowd of students. I got emotional because I did not think people would care enough to participate. We spent the hour talking about our experiences, how we felt about the recent events in Minnesota, and what changes we can make in our school and our community.
Wesseh: Organizing this walk out was very last minute, but it was very much worth it. I was nervous that not a lot of people were going to show up because we do live in a predominantly white area. Not many people are exposed to racism/discrimination, so I really thought since this topic didn’t resonate with as many people here in Saint Michael, that not many would show up. This walk out was more successful than I thought it would be and it was such a beautiful surprise to see everyone in one space showing empathy, love, and compassion.
Q: How do you think your voice as a young person can be used for positive change?
Phiri: Older generations often overlook young people. They often say, “These kids are still young. They don’t know what they are talking about.” We have access to an endless supply of information everywhere we go. Young people see all the injustices and wrongdoings of this world and are not afraid of speaking up. We use our voice to advocate for change for ourselves and others. When we grow up and become the parents and grandparents of this world, we want the younger generations to look at us and be inspired to create change.
Wesseh: I feel like a lot of older people have this idea that the younger generation isn’t as educated or that they do not know as much about the world as they do. I feel that my voice as a younger person can move the generations younger than us and as well as older than us because what was seen as normal ‘back in the day’ is not being tolerated anymore. The older and younger generations can clearly see how much change has been made to society as of 2016. I feel more people, especially younger than us, know what the standard is for the future generations to come when it comes to all injustices.
Q: What do you hope the future will look like in terms of racial equity? How do you think we as society can get there?
Phiri: The pledge of allegiance says, “With liberty and justice for all.” That has never been true. There has never been liberty and justice for all. The Civil Rights Movement did not end racism. It is a plague the United States still needs to get rid of. Racial injustices prevent liberty. Racial injustices prevent justice. I hope one day, ‘liberty and justice for all’ will be true. As a society, we need to acknowledge racism. We also need to educate ourselves. Watching the news is not enough. Using bias resources for information leads to biased thinking. Look for the primary sources. The most important thing people should remember is that we are all human. We all have emotions, and we all experience pain. When you see people protest, they are angry. When another black man is shot and killed by police, the black community is in pain. This past year has brought out very raw emotions for many people and instead of ignoring their outcry, pay attention to what they need to say.
Wesseh: My hope for racial equality in the future and how it should look is that everyone treats each other how they want to be treated. And that we do see skin color and the power struggles that come with varying skin tones. But whether or not we can learn to celebrate our differences and the discrimination we overcame as a whole and come to a mutual understanding that we are all brothers and sisters just like God intended for us to be is our next step. We should not be breaking each other down, we should be building each other up.