And the Children Will Lead Us: A Song for Rekia

Thursday night, students from Chicago’s Village Leadership Academy gathered with their families, teachers and other community members in Douglas Park, to rally around the memory of Rekia Boyd, and to speak out against the criminalization of Black youth. The night carried a special significance to these students, as they not only stood with Rekia Boyd’s brother, Martinez Sutton, but also returned to the endpoint of the first march that the students organized, last January – the Cook Juvenile Detention Center.

“#TheyDontCare: A Musical March for Rekia” would have been an ambitious undertaking for seasoned adult organizers, but with junior high school students guiding children through the streets, the event was nothing short of astonishing. It was clearly a labor of love, born out of righteous intentions. Alex Escamilla, one of the event’s young organizers explained the students wanted to bring both hope and inspiration to the community and to “help people understand what the police are doing to our people.”

What began as a sidewalk march quickly spilled into the streets, as the crowd followed the leadership of exuberant young people. With adult allies on hand to ensure their safety, the children took charge of the moment, bringing an energy to the march that I hadn’t felt in quite some time.

Once the march claimed the streets, the group moved toward the detention center at a brisk pace, halting at major intersections to encircle students who had prepared songs and dance routines in the weeks before the event. In the words of Village Leadership Academy student A’mani Howard, “We are doing what the oppressors tried to keep our ancestors from doing. Like Maya Angelou once said ‘I am the dream and the hope of the slave.'”

Police closed in on the march multiple times, but fell back each time, eventually blocking off traffic to allow the group’s passage. Indifferent to the horns and sirens of impatient agents of the state, the group boisterously danced down Roosevelt, chanting and singing. At one point, Martinez Sutton could be seen  dancing and jumping at the front of the march alongside youth organizer Jakya Hobbs and others. After witnessing the heartache that Martinez and his family have endured since Rekia was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, seeing him join young people in such a joyous moment was absolutely life giving.

Upon arriving at the detention center, the crowd began chanting out to the children inside, “We love you!” After circling the facility, Village Leadership Academy students recited poetry and shared their feelings about police in their communities.

No matter how many times I march to that facility, my heart will always ache at the sight of young people inside, trying to communicate with those who’ve come to show them that they are loved, and that they have not been forgotten.

The student organizers spoke in turns between chants, as the young people in the facility pounded on their windows and tried to convey messages to those of us outside.

The last speaker of the night was writer and organizer Mariame Kaba, who read poetry written by young people who are currently incarcerated in the detention center, before praising the leadership of the young people who planned the march. “We don’t need jails or prisons,” she told them, “keep dreaming of a world without them!”

Before the action, student organizer Jakya Hobbs said that she hoped that the march would “set the opportunity to unify our people and stand up and have fun while sending a powerful message.”

It did that and more.

More tweets from the march can be viewed here.

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