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.