Meet the Student Activists Leading the Country’s Protests for #BlackLivesMatter

The fight for racial equity is being led by teens across the country. These are their stories.

By Team XQ

As protests and demonstrations fill streets across the country, young people have played a vital role in shaping the call to end police brutality and systemic racism. They are leading us to a more equitable future.

Some are leading protests, making signs, and marching. Others are writing to their elected officials. No matter how they choose to make their voices heard, student activists are inspiring change through this historical moment. Meet some of the student activists—from XQ schools and beyond—who are leading us to a better tomorrow. 

Vera Brown, Junior, Crosstown High, Memphis, Tennessee

Vera has written to her local and statewide representatives to ask where they stand on the Black Lives Matter movement, gun laws, and other issues. At school, Vera is a leader as well. She is a member of the Garden Club—which advocates for healthy diets for young people—and a member of her local chapter of Students Demand Action, which advocates for gun safety. Vera and other members of Students Demand Action visited Nashville to talk to state officials about ending gun violence.  

“We are the future. It’s such a crucial moment for young people to be involved in the world—there’s so much at stake. For me, if I can just change one person’s mind, or open just a few people’s eyes to what’s happening, then we can start a whole movement.”

Tiana Day, Recent Graduate, Dougherty Valley High School, San Ramon, California

Two weeks ago, Tiana attended her first protest. She marched in a small gathering in her suburban town to protest police violence. Feeling inspired by the event, Tiana connected with other students on social media and organized a protest on the Golden Gate Bridge. The peaceful gathering drew widespread media coverage and thousands of participants. Taking her activism from the streets and into economic justice, Tiana started a Go Fund Me campaign to create scholarships for Black students.

“We need to be role models and make a change for the students who are younger than us. We don’t want them to grow up in a world of hate. Today, a 12-year-old came up to me and said, ‘That was so awesome what you did! I want to do that!’ For me, that made it all worthwhile.”

Alliyah Logan, Recent Graduate, the Bronx

Alliyah’s activism focuses on empowering Black youth to be leaders for change. Among other activities, she’s fought for international gender equality with a group called Girl Up; educational equity with the New York Civil Liberties Union; and community safety with Youth Over Guns. Most recently she’s participated in demonstrations in New York City demanding police accountability. Alliyah will matriculate to Smith College in the fall.

“It’s extremely important for young people, especially young Black people, to get involved with the Black Lives Matter protests. It takes the wisdom of older activists and the energy of younger activists to create tangible change in this world. Young people are leading this movement, but we have to acknowledge that it is an intergenerational movement. It is time to change the conversation surrounding safety in America.”

Milah Gammon, Class of 2020, Oakland Technical High School, California 

Milah was among a group of Oakland Tech students who marched peacefully from their Oakland high school to Oakland City Hall last week. During their march, they demanded police reform and an end to racist police tactics. More than 15,000 people joined the students, making it one of the largest demonstrations in the Bay Area that week. Milah is involved in a variety of environmental and climate justice activities in Oakland. She credits her honors English and history teacher, Jah-Yee Woo, for inspiring her activism.

“Going to Oakland public schools, we’ve always learned about injustice and how different groups have been oppressed, both in Oakland and around the world. We’ve also learned the importance of standing up and protesting. People often don’t take students seriously, but when kids are peaceful and united, people listen to us.”

Carlos Hinojosa, Recent Graduate, Laurel High School, Maryland

Carlos organized a march and rally in his hometown of Laurel, Md., in the wake of George Floyd’s death. The event drew more than 2,000 protesters and consisted of speeches and testimonials from those impacted by structural racism. The event drew praise from Laurel’s police chief, Russell Hamill III, who told the Baltimore Sun, “It’s an amazing feat for him to pull this together. It’s moving… I’m glad to see everyone working together to help bring a stop to some horrible things.”

Carlos told the Sun: “My friends and I wanted to do something. What started out as something between friends became so much more…I’m so happy. My friends and I worked so hard to get this done.”

Ava Motarjeme, Senior, Northfield High School, Denver

Ava was expecting maybe 1,000 people for a march she organized in Colfax, a neighborhood in Denver. Instead, the event drew three times that, according to Denverite. She and her classmates marched, chanted, listened to speeches from each other and from school officials, and even took some dance breaks.

“I think it’s important to show that we’re all in this fight together,” Ava told reporter Esteban Hernandez. “We all just want to show our support toward the black community and show that we really believe in Black Lives Matter.”

Whether they’re marching in the streets, talking to politicians and the media, or brainstorming with their peers, young people are participating in the transformation of our society. And they’re proving that no social or political change will be complete without their voice. Given the energy we’ve seen in young people over the last few weeks, their motivation is contagious and it’s clear the public is listening.  

*In response to the recent protests against police brutality, XQ is putting together content that highlights how structural racism, the carceral system, and economic inequality play out in our school systems. Are you a young person looking to get more involved in activism? Are you looking to connect with other young activists? Join their discussion on our forum. Here’s a beautiful and honest post by Vera Brown.