The messages and marches have been more than fleeting.
From one community to another, they’ve taken robust root, organized quickly and organically by word of mouth, text and social media.
Thousands of Snohomish County residents are urging leaders to go beyond giving lip service to the idea that Black lives matter. The death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis has bound them to a movement.
The machinery behind such mass gatherings is not a team of political operatives or soccer moms in tennis shoes. For the most part, it is young people, most often of color, determined to be heard. Many are too young to vote.
At rallies over recent weeks, The Daily Herald has caught up with a few of the young organizers to ask them why they decided to step forward. They have much to say.
Michael Larson, Gabe Maggio and John Wilson
A week before Michael Larson began school at Gonzaga University, he and other incoming freshmen took a trip to Montana.
One day he and about two dozen classmates and group leaders went mountain biking. Larson was the only person of color to join.
At one point an older white man and woman rode past the group in the opposite direction, looking at each of the new students. When they got to Larson, the man swerved his bike, reached out and pushed Larson’s shoulder, nearly knocking him over. One of the guides saw this, and turned around to confront the man, who continued to ride away, Larson said.
“Immediately I was just hit with so much emotion, first confusion. Like, why did he push me? What was I doing? Was I in the way?” he said. “Then the reality started to hit me of like, the only reason this man pushed me is because of the color of my skin. He knows nothing about me.”
That night, Larson went home and enrolled in a sociology class. Now he’s majoring in sociology and minoring in leadership studies, along with solidarity and social justice. He’s going into his senior year of college and plans to attend law school someday.
In the past month or so he’s been helping organize local demonstrations against racism.
Another incident occurred after he started at the university. He was pulled over while driving from Everett, his hometown, back to Spokane. He hadn’t been going any faster than 5 mph over the speed limit for the entire five hours, and had a friend in the car.
About 10 minutes away from home, he was pulled over. The officer said his car had been reported as driving recklessly. Larson was sober, but the officer gave him tests to prove it.
“I just felt so dehumanized, knowing I had done nothing wrong, then not having the state trooper trust my word,” he said. “Then in front of my friend, having to do two drug and alcohol tests for something I knew I was innocent of.”
He believes this was racial profiling. After, he wondered what could have happened if things had gone wrong, and he was another unarmed Black man killed by a law enforcement officer.
“I’m only 20 years old — this is kind of only the beginning of a life I’m going to live,” he said. “It’s not going to be surprising to me anymore the more I get pulled over, the more I get treated differently.”
Growing up in Everett, he didn’t really notice racism directed toward him. Now he thinks maybe he just dismissed it. Larson was adopted into a white family, and they didn’t talk much about race when he was younger.
In Everett schools, he met Gabe Maggio and John Wilson. A couple of weeks ago they planned one of the largest protests yet in Everett.
Maggio, 20, attends Villanova University near Philadelphia and Wilson, 19, has stayed in his hometown and taken classes at Everett Community College. They’ve been best friends since they were little.
Maggio is going into his junior year and is majoring in both sociology and criminology, and minoring in Spanish. He also plans to go to law school.
Maggio and Wilson started to notice more and more protests happening and decided to plan one in Everett.
“We thought it was important to get the youth voice heard, especially the minority community youth voice,” Maggio said. “We wanted to put something together that was more local, because there was stuff going on in Seattle.”
Wilson gauged interest on Instagram by asking friends.
“We decided we wanted to set a date and time, and at that point we realized we had no idea what we were doing and a ton of people who wanted to come,” Maggio said.
That’s when they asked Larson to help out. He’d been part of student government with Maggio while at Everett High School. Larson was interested, but they only had two full days to put it together.
They found eight speakers through different connections. The morning of the protest their Facebook page said 400 people had planned to show up. When they arrived, it was probably more than double that.
Since then, they’ve gone to other local protests, such as the public defenders march in Everett two days later.
Larson wants structural change to the criminal justice and prison systems.
“Myself as a Black man has a one in three chance of going to prison within my lifetime, while Gabe as a white man has a one in 16 chance of going to prison” he said. “That disparity isn’t something that’s just going to be fixed through policing. This system itself is broken.”
Both he and Maggio hope people continue to protest, email their local leaders and learn how to bring about change. The pair plans to participate in the March on Washington in August in D.C.
Maggio encourages other white people to continue to speak out against racism, even if they are afraid of saying something wrong.
“By refusing to talk about a touchy subject, you’re just letting it continue,” he said. “Whereas you address it, even if you do make a mistake, it will be corrected, you will learn from that and you can build on that and educate yourself.”
Josiah Frank and Jenasis Lee
Hundreds listened as young people spoke against racism over a loudspeaker at Jennings Park in Marysville earlier this month.
“I continue to hear that these marches and protests are pointless,” said Jenasis Lee, 17, through the microphone. “But you see my friends, we have caught the attention of the media, of this state, of the whole country, and of this here town.”
Lee is going into her senior year at Marysville Getchell High School, where she’s president of the Black Student Union.
She wanted to organize a peaceful protest after seeing others in nearby cities and reached out to Mayor Jon Nehring.
Josiah Frank and his father, JJ Frank, had already been working on something similar. Nehring put them all in touch.
Frank, 16, is going into his junior year at Marysville Pilchuck High School and is co-president of that school’s Black Student Union. His father is executive director of the Marysville YMCA.
Both Lee and Frank hope that more Black history is taught in the Marysville School District. The morning of the protest, June 11, they met through online video with city leaders, including school superintendent Jason Thompson. Frank would like these additions to be made in middle and high schools by fall.
His first encounter with racism happened while attending a private school in the city.
“When I was in kindergarten, about 10 years ago, a girl told me she didn’t want to play with me just because I was Black,” he said. Encounters like that continued.
“So that started racism for me, and I started learning more about my culture and why we’re treated like that. And even today, I’ll get looked down on in grocery stores, just shopping. That’s everyday stuff, that, you know, it’s not normal.”
Lee has faced similar discrimination.
“It makes walking into a simple store and getting groceries hard when someone is following you around,” she said. “We call it guest servicing, when they are constantly asking you if you need help.”
During the protest, hundreds of people filled some of the city’s main streets, chanting and waving signs. Most who passed by cheered them on, except for one man who shouted at the crowd as they crossed State Avenue.
People came out of businesses to wave, including a group from a dentist’s office — one man still wearing a bib around his neck.
“I know there’s a lot of people in Marysville, but I didn’t know that many really do support us,” Frank said.
Lee was surprised as well.
“I keep saying this, but this is only the beginning,” she said. “There is a revolution starting all over America. We are starting something big.”
Drake Wilson is tired of the Confederate flags he sees on hats and pickup trucks in his hometown. The relics, he said, are a reminder that racism remains a part of the “status quo” in Snohomish.
“I just was like, ‘Enough is enough. This community can be better than this,’” said 22-year-old Wilson, who has organized daily protests at Avenue D and Second Street in Snohomish.
The senior at Northwestern University didn’t expect to be spending his summer evenings rallying for racial justice. A journalism major, he was set to intern at a magazine until the new coronavirus scuttled that plan; instead, he returned home to live with his parents.
“Right now, people are feeling emboldened,” he said. “It’s more important than ever to stand up.”
Wilson, who is gay, said his sexuality has made him more of a target for prejudice than the dark color of his skin. Still, racism has had an impact on his life. He recalled his younger sister returning home from school one day in tears after she was called a racial slur.
He would like to see Snohomish become a place where black and brown people are willing to stay instead of yearning to leave.
He’s also asking for more anti-racism education in local schools and more teachers of color.
And Wilson wants Mayor John Kartak to condemn the events that recently unfolded when armed vigilantes lined the historic downtown in what they said was an attempt to protect local boutiques from alleged leftist looting threats that never materialized. One of the self-appointed guards waved a Confederate flag. Some flaunted patches of a hate group’s coded insignia on tactical gear.
Distraught residents have decried the scene at recent Snohomish City Council meetings.
“What I saw was Proud Boys and white supremacists flaunting their racism in plain sight on First Street,” said Wilson. “That should not be okay.”
Raigan Reed and Cora Rose Hannigan
They knew each other but hung out in different social circles at Lake Stevens High School.
Raigan Reed was The Herald’s girls’ basketball player of the year and earned a four-year scholarship to Boise State University.
Cora Rose Hannigan was among the school’s top 10 graduates. Passionate and idealistic, she’ll be off to Montana State University to study environmental engineering and environmental science. She hopes to help reverse global warming.
“I don’t know how people wake up every day and not have a burning desire to make the world better,” she said.
Fate — and graduation requirements — placed them in a current American issues class their senior year. Hannigan felt like she’d found a kindred spirit in Reed, someone who was willing to take a stand.
Hannigan, who is white, reached out to Reed, who is Black, as the death of George Floyd spurred protests across the land. She wanted their hometown to speak out, as well. Hannigan has been active in social justice issues. She knows the ropes of getting permits and understands the logistics of putting on a demonstration.
Reed was thankful that Hannigan was practiced in the art of organizing.
Hannigan was grateful that Reed’s ability to lead people stretches well beyond a basketball court.
“I just thought I should use my voice for something good, to bring the community together,” Reed said. Lake Stevens “is traditionally a small town. It’s predominately white. Everyone was shocked by how many people were there.”
Hundreds marched in a community where just 1.6% of the population is African American.
During the demonstration, the graduating seniors lay next to each other on the ground for nine minutes, roughly the time a Minneapolis police officer had his leg on George Floyd’s neck.
Hannigan sensed some kind of a profound connection. She said she doesn’t know if she ever felt closer to a friend than in those moments that seemed so full of meaning.
“It is not a political battle,” she said. “These are human rights.”
George Floyd’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” have become a rallying cry for a nationwide movement to end police brutality.
But for Pastor Jermell Witherspoon, their meaning goes even deeper.
Witherspoon is reminded of the passages in the Bible that describe how God breathed life into man.
Thus, an officer who deprives someone of their ability to fill their lungs with air is taking away the breath of God. That was Witherspoon’s message to two police officers who were stationed near Jubilee Church of God in Christ on June 12, when he spoke at a prayer vigil that drew more than 70 people.
“While we honor and respect what it is that you do, I want to be very clear that the reason we are out here doing what we are doing is because the injustice is not just an offense to us. It is an offense to God,” he told the officers.
Witherspoon, who serves as pastor at the majority-white Everett United Church of Christ, has found that faith and activism are intertwined as he has attended rallies and protests in Snohomish County and beyond.
“I am a Christian pastor, and I don’t believe you can have Jesus without justice,” the 30-year-old Edmonds resident said after the prayer vigil. “They are paired.”
Joshua Binda, Alex Callaway and Jordyn Porea
The Black community in Mukilteo is small at only 2% of the 21,441 residents, according to Census data.
After Floyd’s public, traumatizing death, Joshua Binda, Alex Callaway and Jordyn Porea wanted to lead the discussion about racism in their community.
The Kamiak High School graduates, from between 2017 and this year, were well known for their accomplishments in student clubs, sports and stage. Now they’re hoping to make their mark for civil rights through calls for equity, racial justice and representation.
“We chose to organize the Mukilteo protest because it’s our hometown and us being some of the very few black population in the school felt like our town needed to be educated and shown the depths of racism African Americans face in America and especially in more white-populated areas as Mukilteo, as well,” Binda said.
Binda, 20, was student body president and a standout football player. He’s working on a computer science degree with a minor in political science.
He said he met with mayors and lawmakers to talk about reform and legislation in cases of police brutality and in-custody deaths. He’s also organizing more protests.
Callaway, 19, helped launch the Union for Students of African Ancestry at the school. He said he felt targeted by a police officer while walking with friends, a story he shared during the Mukilteo protest earlier this month.
“He stopped us and he was questioning us about soliciting and loitering by selling neighbors some type of product,” Callaway said. “I told him, ‘Officer, we weren’t,’ but he replied, ‘I’m not talking to you,’ so my friend who was Caucasian had to speak for me.”
A student at the American Musical Dramatic Academy in Cypress, California, who loves to act, dance and sing, Callaway said he plans to use his talents to spread awareness that Black lives matter and to encourage voting. He is working on a protest in Lynnwood.
Porea graduated this past week. She grew up attending Mukilteo schools: Serene Lake Elementary, Olympic View Middle and Kamiak High. She was a Running Start student at Edmonds College the past two years and worked at the Edmonds Boys & Girls Club, where she coached basketball and volleyball.
This fall, she is to enroll at Western Washington University. She also plans to continue pushing for equity.
“As for the movement, we just have to keep pushing for change in legislation and for equal representation,” she said. “We are constantly looking for more ways to make our voices heard.”
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