Hundreds marched and rallied in Chicago Thursday evening to "reclaim" the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a demonstration organized, in part, by middle schoolers. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the youth-led protest.
Hundreds marched and rallied in Chicago Thursday evening to "reclaim" the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a demonstration organized, in part, by middle schoolers.
The youth-led demonstration on King's birthday kicked off at the Village Leadership Academy, a private school serving fourth through eighth graders at 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, followed by a march to the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center at 1100 S. Hamilton Ave.
Thursday's peaceful protest -- spearheaded by Village Leadership Academy students, the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, the Chicago Light Brigade, We Charge Genocide and other groups -- was "aimed at centering the struggle of young people of color," according to organizers. Fast food workers with the Fight for 15 campaign also took part in the event.
"If Martin Luther King were alive today, he'd be 86 years old," Page May with We Charge Genocide told the large crowd before the march. "I am sure he would be out there fighting with Fight for 15 for a living wage. I am sure he'd be out there with Rising Tide recognizing that climate change is a threat of genocide on poor people and people of color across the globe. And if Martin Luther King were alive today, he would be outraged at the prison industrial complex that locks away millions of our people, that puts them in cages and then releases them, not as people, but as criminals."
About 50 Village Leadership Academy students, who developed the theme and destination of the march, took part in the event, with some carrying signs reading, "Black lives matter" and "Hands up don't shoot."
Each year, Village Leadership Academy students work on "grassroots campaigns" based on a problem in their community that they want to address, explained the school's principal Nakisha Hobbs. As part of their project this year, eighth grade students identified police brutality "as an issue that was impacting their lives," Hobbs said.
"So that's kind of where this started," she said of the protest. "They started thinking about how they could address the issue of police brutality in their own community. They started to develop allies, and they actually participated in a couple actions before around police brutality. And from there, they really wanted to do something themselves. And so they were able to help to plan this action today with We Charge Genocide and BYP 100 and all the organizations that are listed."
The protest at the juvenile detention center was inspired by fifth graders at the school, who developed their grassroots campaign around the issue of youth incarceration and the school to prison pipeline.
Twelve-year-old Kaleb Autman, a Village Leadership Academy student, addressed the crowd before the march.
"We didn't organize this march just to lift our voices," he said. "We came to make change ... The first fact that I know about all of us here today is we all want justice to actually be served. We want a school system that helps youth of color get jobs. We want jobs, not jails. We want books, not bullets. We want education, not incarceration."
Here's more from Autman, May and scenes from the protest:
A few dozen police on bikes and in vehicles followed the protesters as they marched to the detention center, where members of the Chicago Light Brigade held up large, illuminated letter signs that spelled out "free us all." Activists also projected the message "indict the system" onto the side of the detention center's building. Youth inside the detention center could be seen looking out their windows and waving to protesters on the ground.
Chicagoan Alberto Ramon said he participated in Thursday's march and rally to stand in solidarity with groups working to end injustice and to remind people of Martin Luther King's "true legacy" as a "radical, revolutionary and not necessarily the streamlined version that is popularized in the media."
When asked to elaborate on the message to "indict the system," Ramon explained, "We're saying that the system itself is problematic in that it creates criminalized lives for the service of [the] capitalist structure of the system."
Also at the march was Mark Clements, a survivor of torture committed by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his officers. Earlier in the day Thursday, Clements and others held a "sing-in" at City Hall as part of an ongoing campaign for a long-stalled ordinance seeking reparations for Burge torture survivors.
"The purpose and the action of the march should be to focus upon the legacy of Dr. King and all of the great achievements," Clements said at the Thursday night demonstration. "We are in 2015, but sad to say that we're still dealing with similar issues, and one of those issues that we are still wrestling with is Chicago police torture under Jon Burge. And I believe that if we are to move and make progress, then we must clean up the old dirt that's laying in the closet."