By Tia Lynn Ivey
Morgan County High School students organized a youth-led march through downtown Madison last Friday to protest racial injustice. In solidarity with thousands of protesters across the country, about 75 teens and supportive adults, including Madison Mayor Fred Perriman, gathered in Town Park with signs to listen to speakers and march to Hill Park, which features a controversial Confederate monument.
While the group marched from Town Park to Hill Park, they chanted slogans like “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Equal Opportunity” and “Say Their Names,” which is in reference to Black Americans killed unjustly by police.
Alex Williams, a 16-year-old junior at Morgan County High School, was inspired to organize a youth march after attending the Madison march earlier this month. Williams said he wants his generation to step up and help shape the future for the better.
“It’s our responsibility to do something about what’s happening in the world. It all affects the future, so we should have a hand in trying to make it better because it’s our future,” said Williams. “This is only the beginning. We are only going up from here. There is no more going down and we want to be in the fight to end discrimination and we will be on the right side of history.”
On a national level, Williams stands with protesters across the country who are seeking an end to police brutality and reforms to the criminal justice system. Locally, Williams is hoping the educational system will become more diverse and people become more aware of how racism still exists in the community.
“I’ve been called the N-word many times at school,” said Williams. “My friends have been called the N-word, too. It’s not just me.”
Mayor Perriman agreed to a roundtable discussion with Williams and other march organizers about what they would like to see change in the City of Madison.
“One of the biggest things for me is more representation in the school system,” said Williams. “Thirty percent of the high school is African-American, yet we only have two black educators,” said Williams. “We need more black teachers and leaders, we need more representation and equality.”
Perriman said he is looking forward to the roundtable discussion with the march organizers.
“It really makes you feel good to see our youth be so vibrant and connected to what’s going on in our world,” said Perriman. “It was an honor to walk with this group of young people, who were very respectful and peaceful. They weren’t there to cause trouble, but to have their voices heard. We have to support our youth. As we get older, their mindset is different than ours, so we have to learn to really listen. They are part of our society and community and want them to be part of it – to welcome them in and encourage them to make it better. I am hoping the roundtable discussion is a chance to listen to these young people and learn what they want to see happen in our city. It all starts with an honest discussion.”
Other MCHS students and MCHS alum were eager to participate in the march.
“It was amazing to see so many people come together and support us,” said Simone LeClaire, 17. “I want people to know systemic racism is an everyday reality, it is part of everyday life for people. We still haven’t crossed that barrier or destroyed those obstacles. Living in a southern town, racism is still pretty rampant. Madison is better than most but there is still room for improvement.
“We want to help create a new fair and equal reality,” said LeClaire. “This is just a seed that needs to be nurtured. We can’t stop here. If we keep going with a good outlook, we can continue to make change.”
Lipi Desai, who graduated from MCHS last spring, wanted to stand in solidarity with her peers to advocate for racial justice and equality.
“Racism is a present thing no matter how small or how big our town is,” said Desai. “We need to continually fight to advocate for people who are not supported well due to their race. We want people to realize how unfair our community can be in regards to racism. It will take a lot to change, but I believe it can happen when more people come together like this.”
Lucia Hodges, another MCHS alum, was proud to be part of the march and her friends who organized it.
“I thought it was a really important thing to show that the youth is involved in our community,” said Hodges. “We are not scared anymore and we are here to fight for justice and will not back down.”
Hodges said during her time at MCHS when she organized a group for young Democrats, she experienced intense backlash from other students and even adults.
“We got hate from our peers at school and adults in the community,” remembered Hodges. “It was hard. So I am so proud to see everyone who came out to the march and show they are part of this community, too, and want change. I hope to see in this country a long-term fight and that white people recognize systemic racism is something that is still going on and something we need to help fix.”
After the march on Friday afternoon, the Rev. Samuel Head, from Monroe, led the group in a prayer for peace, change and justice.
“We need to express what we believe that stands for truth. Not just truth for Black Lives Matter but for mankind,” said Head, who also graduated from MCHS and leads True Live Ministries in Monroe. “We count this as a success today. We count this as a victory.”