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Spirit of activism spurs teen to launch Black Lives Matter protest in East Palo Alto

George Floyd's death fuels hundreds to march, speak out

Alanna Stevenson, 15, leads a Black Lives Matter protest down Bay Road while Larry Barnes marches next to her in East Palo Alto on June 3. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday in East Palo Alto was a distinctly homegrown effort that started with a 15-year-old girl sending a flyer to her 200 Instagram followers from her bedroom.

"I felt like God was telling me, 'Use your voice and use the attitude and power you have to protest for what things are right,'" said Alanna Stevenson, a rising junior at Menlo-Atherton High School. "I don't care if my parents said no, all respect to them, but I was still going to protest even if I had no one behind me or if I had everyone behind me."

In a white T-shirt that read "Am I next," Stevenson led hundreds of protesters at the demonstration, which started at noon at Jack Farrell Park in East Palo Alto and ended about a mile away at Bell Street Park. The event was part demonstration, part sermon and part spoken word.

Protesters shouted, "No justice, no peace," which evolved into a call-and-response chant met with cries of "No racist a-- police." A few participants' prayers bookended the march and 20-year-old Jacob Virges passionately delivered a searing poem: "They killin' blacks so they can white out the truth and this is real / They said we trust in God on every dollar bill."

The demonstration was one of many this week held across the Bay Area and country to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee into Floyd's neck.

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But before the whole community sprang into action for Wednesday's protest in East Palo Alto, Stevenson had barely asked her for her parents' permission to protest. She had already shared a digital flyer with her peers on social media, where it quickly went viral.

Shawneece Stevenson, Alanna's mother, was caught a little off guard when she found out her daughter already blasted plans for the protest over social media. But she wasn't so surprised that her 15-year-old, who went to her first march in East Palo Alto about eight years ago, would want to organize a protest.

"In East Palo Alto, we value kids' voices," Shawneece said. "Someone reminded me of East Palo Alto history: It was youth who got Romic (Environmental Technologies) out of our community. It was youth who made a big difference in the community."

(In 2006, members of Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto-based youth organization focused on social justice and environmental issues, protested and filed a federal civil rights complaint against Romic, a hazardous waste management firm in East Palo Alto. About a year later, the plant was shut down.)

Menlo-Atherton's Black Student Union soon shared the post on its own social media platforms as well as Youth United for Community Action, which also provided staff and other resources on the day of the march. The city's Police Department also reached out to the Stevensons and offered to help redirect traffic as people marched.

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By Wednesday, hundreds of youth and adults from East Palo Alto and surrounding communities gathered at Jack Farrell Park, many of whom didn't know who exactly organized the protest, but were united by a common cause.

"The color of your skin shouldn't be a reason for you to think something bad about somebody," said Delores Moore, a 13-year-old East Palo Alto resident. Moore, who watched the video of Floyd's killing, recalled her experience with racial prejudice going back as early as kindergarten, when she said her peers refused to play with her because she was black.

Hundreds of protesters gather to protest George Floyd's death in police custody May 25, at Bell Street Park in East Palo Alto on June 3. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Even for a death that occurred more than 2,000 miles away, Saqqara Ruffin, 16, of Pinole, said it was important that people marched in East Palo Alto and "get the word out everywhere."

"I have a black brother; I have a black father; and I have black friends who are males at school," Ruffin said. "The fact that this happens means that it can happen to my brother, it could happen to my black friends ... it's just scary to think that it could happen to anyone."

In multiple speeches at Jack Farrell and Bell Street parks, elders repeatedly called on the younger generation in the crowd to vote, recalling Barack Obama's 2008 campaign when the former U.S. president used social media to mobilize a coalition of youth.

"What you can do to stop this: vote," Stephen Ashford, 45, shouted. "If you don't like (President Donald) Trump, vote him out."

Aniya Majors, 18, a former president of the Black Student Union at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, was enthused to see a young teenage girl so involved with social activism.

Alanna Stevenson, 15, and East Palo Alto police Chief Albert Pardini share a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds with hundreds of protesters at Bell Street Park in East Palo Alto on June 3. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

"The younger you are, the more you get to see and experience so many things and (it) opens up so many doors for yourself and other people around you," she said. "I feel like it's so important that they're out here and expressing themselves and saying, 'We need to be safe, and we need to speak out about what's going on.'"

What did Alanna want to come out of the protests?

"I want accountability," she said, "because all they did was fire the four police officers. That's not enough.

"He murdered someone, she added slowly, punctuating each word. "I don't think that this is third-degree murder."

On Wednesday, Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee against Floyd for nearly nine minutes, received a more serious charge of second-degree murder. The three other officers involved in Floyd's death, who were initially fired, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Members of the local Israeli and Jewish community plan to hold a peaceful protest in Palo Alto at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 5. The group will gather at Greer Park where they will kneel down for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Anyone who plans to attend is asked to wear a mask and maintain social distance, according to a Facebook event page.

Also on Friday, at 5 p.m., Stanford University is hosting "A Vigil for Black Lives," a virtual event sponsored by the Black Community Services Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and Ujamaa House. Attendees can expect to hear reflections on recent events and remarks from black students, staff and faculty at the university. A link to the livestreamed event can be found here.

A rally will also be held at noon on Saturday at King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Speakers will include former judge LaDoris Cordell, former Stanford University dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, East Palo Alto Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones and others.

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Spirit of activism spurs teen to launch Black Lives Matter protest in East Palo Alto

George Floyd's death fuels hundreds to march, speak out

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Jun 4, 2020, 5:50 pm
Updated: Fri, Jun 5, 2020, 8:57 am

A Black Lives Matter protest on Wednesday in East Palo Alto was a distinctly homegrown effort that started with a 15-year-old girl sending a flyer to her 200 Instagram followers from her bedroom.

"I felt like God was telling me, 'Use your voice and use the attitude and power you have to protest for what things are right,'" said Alanna Stevenson, a rising junior at Menlo-Atherton High School. "I don't care if my parents said no, all respect to them, but I was still going to protest even if I had no one behind me or if I had everyone behind me."

In a white T-shirt that read "Am I next," Stevenson led hundreds of protesters at the demonstration, which started at noon at Jack Farrell Park in East Palo Alto and ended about a mile away at Bell Street Park. The event was part demonstration, part sermon and part spoken word.

Protesters shouted, "No justice, no peace," which evolved into a call-and-response chant met with cries of "No racist a-- police." A few participants' prayers bookended the march and 20-year-old Jacob Virges passionately delivered a searing poem: "They killin' blacks so they can white out the truth and this is real / They said we trust in God on every dollar bill."

The demonstration was one of many this week held across the Bay Area and country to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pushed his knee into Floyd's neck.

But before the whole community sprang into action for Wednesday's protest in East Palo Alto, Stevenson had barely asked her for her parents' permission to protest. She had already shared a digital flyer with her peers on social media, where it quickly went viral.

Shawneece Stevenson, Alanna's mother, was caught a little off guard when she found out her daughter already blasted plans for the protest over social media. But she wasn't so surprised that her 15-year-old, who went to her first march in East Palo Alto about eight years ago, would want to organize a protest.

"In East Palo Alto, we value kids' voices," Shawneece said. "Someone reminded me of East Palo Alto history: It was youth who got Romic (Environmental Technologies) out of our community. It was youth who made a big difference in the community."

(In 2006, members of Youth United for Community Action, an East Palo Alto-based youth organization focused on social justice and environmental issues, protested and filed a federal civil rights complaint against Romic, a hazardous waste management firm in East Palo Alto. About a year later, the plant was shut down.)

Menlo-Atherton's Black Student Union soon shared the post on its own social media platforms as well as Youth United for Community Action, which also provided staff and other resources on the day of the march. The city's Police Department also reached out to the Stevensons and offered to help redirect traffic as people marched.

By Wednesday, hundreds of youth and adults from East Palo Alto and surrounding communities gathered at Jack Farrell Park, many of whom didn't know who exactly organized the protest, but were united by a common cause.

"The color of your skin shouldn't be a reason for you to think something bad about somebody," said Delores Moore, a 13-year-old East Palo Alto resident. Moore, who watched the video of Floyd's killing, recalled her experience with racial prejudice going back as early as kindergarten, when she said her peers refused to play with her because she was black.

Even for a death that occurred more than 2,000 miles away, Saqqara Ruffin, 16, of Pinole, said it was important that people marched in East Palo Alto and "get the word out everywhere."

"I have a black brother; I have a black father; and I have black friends who are males at school," Ruffin said. "The fact that this happens means that it can happen to my brother, it could happen to my black friends ... it's just scary to think that it could happen to anyone."

In multiple speeches at Jack Farrell and Bell Street parks, elders repeatedly called on the younger generation in the crowd to vote, recalling Barack Obama's 2008 campaign when the former U.S. president used social media to mobilize a coalition of youth.

"What you can do to stop this: vote," Stephen Ashford, 45, shouted. "If you don't like (President Donald) Trump, vote him out."

Aniya Majors, 18, a former president of the Black Student Union at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, was enthused to see a young teenage girl so involved with social activism.

"The younger you are, the more you get to see and experience so many things and (it) opens up so many doors for yourself and other people around you," she said. "I feel like it's so important that they're out here and expressing themselves and saying, 'We need to be safe, and we need to speak out about what's going on.'"

What did Alanna want to come out of the protests?

"I want accountability," she said, "because all they did was fire the four police officers. That's not enough.

"He murdered someone, she added slowly, punctuating each word. "I don't think that this is third-degree murder."

On Wednesday, Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee against Floyd for nearly nine minutes, received a more serious charge of second-degree murder. The three other officers involved in Floyd's death, who were initially fired, were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Members of the local Israeli and Jewish community plan to hold a peaceful protest in Palo Alto at 3 p.m. on Friday, June 5. The group will gather at Greer Park where they will kneel down for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Anyone who plans to attend is asked to wear a mask and maintain social distance, according to a Facebook event page.

Also on Friday, at 5 p.m., Stanford University is hosting "A Vigil for Black Lives," a virtual event sponsored by the Black Community Services Center, Counseling and Psychological Services and Ujamaa House. Attendees can expect to hear reflections on recent events and remarks from black students, staff and faculty at the university. A link to the livestreamed event can be found here.

A rally will also be held at noon on Saturday at King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave. Speakers will include former judge LaDoris Cordell, former Stanford University dean Julie Lythcott-Haims, East Palo Alto Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones and others.

Comments

social distancing?
Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:30 pm
social distancing?, Crescent Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:30 pm
31 people like this

It's encouraging to see most participants wearing masks, but they're definitely not standing 6 feet apart. This does not bode well for the covid-19 cases 14 days from now in Santa Clara and San Mateo county.


Wow - Inspiring
Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:38 pm
Wow - Inspiring , Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:38 pm
5 people like this

Alanna is a great example to others. Let us be inspired and moved to educate ourselves to be true allies for justice for the senseless killing of black people. We’re all in this together.


Resident
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:16 am
Resident, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:16 am
Like this comment

"We will rise" definitely means peaceful. We need to impose a fine those racist businesses who put wood on their windows, this is racist! I hope my kids will grow up with a biography as our role model George Floyd, always resisting police, even during armed robbery. No justice - no peace to Palo Alto.


Liz Phillips
Atherton
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:35 am
Liz Phillips, Atherton
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:35 am
2 people like this

Thanks to the youth movement and Alanna Stevenson who will really make the change happen. Nice to hear that so many young people are involved in seeking justice. Glad to hear them talking about and understanding the power of their vote.


JoAnn Loulan
Portola Valley
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:37 am
JoAnn Loulan, Portola Valley
on Jun 5, 2020 at 11:37 am
1 person likes this

This young woman needs to run for office (and get trained by Emerge California to do so) she'd need to be 18 but that's right around the corner. She and those like her are our future--this is the only way to change things. Young people have to participate and VOTE! Having an opinion is not enough--this level of participation is remarkable! THANK YOU!

Check out these papers about systemic racism and research on how this happened. The Racial Wealth Gap and need for Criminal Justice Reform.

Web Link
Web Link

If you want to help in changing state legislatures, look at localmajority.org We write papers for candidates that cannot take the time to do it themselves. We are free and work in the swing states we need. Contact me: joann@localmajority.org


Ann Kelly
Ventura
on Jun 6, 2020 at 9:54 am
Ann Kelly, Ventura
on Jun 6, 2020 at 9:54 am
5 people like this

Vote. Vote. Vote. Both in national , but, more importantly, in local elections!


Carlito waysmann
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 3:17 pm
Carlito waysmann, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 6, 2020 at 3:17 pm
2 people like this

"All they did was fire the 4 police officers"
Really?
We have a Constitution and the rule of law. If you don't like any of it , call your representatives to change the laws.
All we can see is destruction, fires gutting businesses, looting, trying to impose guilt on other people that don't think like them , at this point the original intent of the protests is gone, now is taken over by the anarchists , fair weather politicians that control the narrative now .

The last I heard , the Feds are busy after the main instigators.
This is the United States of America, the best Country on Earth for every citizen to achieve as much as she or he wants to , as long as they are not afraid to work hard for it.

All lives matter, why single out only one color? Doesn't that defeat the inclusiveness illusion they pretend to believe?

Enough is enough !!


@Old Palo Alto
Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2020 at 3:25 pm
@Old Palo Alto, Mountain View
on Jun 6, 2020 at 3:25 pm
3 people like this

Amazing to think, after all that has happened, that there are *still* people who believe what right-wing propaganda outlets put out.

If these same people were to live the lives of the black people they so ferociously criticize...they *may* find out that what right-wing puts out is wrong. Very, very wrong.


Walter McMillan
Los Altos
on Jun 7, 2020 at 8:29 am
Walter McMillan, Los Altos
on Jun 7, 2020 at 8:29 am
6 people like this

We said -> black lives matter
NEVER said -> only black lives matter
We know -> All lives matter
We just need YOUR HELP with #blacklivesmatter because BLACK LIVES are in DANGER.

Thank You


Monica
another community
on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:36 am
Monica, another community
on Jun 8, 2020 at 9:36 am
Like this comment

Thank you for showing your strength and courage Alanna. I will be sharing this with my 15 year old daughter who will be truly inspired by your story. In speaking on her behalf, the under 18 community is eager to be supportive however sometimes unsure how due to safety concerns. Thank you for leading this peaceful protest.


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