After a series of fatal shootings that occurred across the nation last week, a group of young student activists realized they had the power to do more than sit back, feeling powerless and defeated.
Thursday night, following the police shootings that resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, MN, five organizers hatched a plan for a peaceful protest to "show solidarity and honor the recent victims of police brutality."
The small group of recent Shaker Heights High School graduates included Nya Hardaway, Amani Hill, Matt Mahoney, Camren Shorts, and Hannah Steiss — all of whom are 18 years old, except for Hardaway who is 17.
The friends initially met to talk about what had happened and to decompress, but then the conversation moved to what they could do next.
"We can't just keep saying 'RIP' and putting a hashtag before another name. We have to do something," thought Amani Hill, whose essay on racial inequality in school curriculum earned her an honorable mention in the Maltz Museum's Stop the Hate contest in 2015.
"For a while we were thinking that organizing would be this humongous task. Is it going to be too big? Are we too young? Do we not have enough resources?" said Hill. "But as the conversation evolved and we began organizing a protest, we realized that it isn't intangible; it's something we can really do."
They next began working out the logistics for a march downtown that would bring together people throughout the Cleveland area who felt affected by the shootings.
"Usually when one of our brothers fell due to police violence, we were angry for two days and after that two-day period we went back to our regular lives," said Hardaway.
After reaching out to the head of the Cleveland chapter for Black Lives Matter with no response, the group took on the responsibility of publicizing the march themselves through social media. The time and location of the event were posted to Twitter and Facebook along with the parade route.
Saturday morning, the protest began at Public Square where Hill, Hardaway, and Mahoney each gave short speeches to rally the crowd and state the motive for the day. After the group was gathered, they began their march down East 4th and around Progressive Field.
Chanting the phrases, "No Justice, No Peace," "Police brutality is never okay, black or white, straight or gay," and "Black Lives Matter," the crowd gathered more followers as they continued through the Cleveland streets.
"Once we came back [to Public Square] I realized that we had way more people than we had started with," said Hardaway. The assembly of approximately 80 members then decided to continue on a second route past the Justice Center, briefly pausing on the steps.
Hill expressed that the group doesn't consider themselves "an organization, we want it to be more organic. Just five friends who are equally dedicated to a cause and passionate about these issues."
Moving forwards, they hope to reach out and connect other relevant organizations and involve individuals to increase assembly numbers and assist in organizing future events before they each go off to college.
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