By Aaron Gettinger
Joining thousands of other students across Chicago and the United States, students at Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackwood Ave., participated in the National Walkout Day on the one-month anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Against warnings from Kenwood Academy administrators that students away from class longer than 17 minutes, one for each victim in Florida, would face disciplinary action for unexcused absences, a contingent of student protesters marched in the streets of Kenwood and Bronzeville. One handcuffed student was transported away from the scene by Chicago Police Department officers.
Students across the country walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. local time. At that hour in Chicago, Kenwood Academy students burst through their school’s doors and flooded onto the plaza at Hyde Park Boulevard and Harper Avenue. The protest-organizing Student Activism Club, led by Madison Miller, Katherine Salinas, Alexis Burress, Mia Rowse and Cassidy Bennett, utilized a sculpture as a platform and commanded the crowd’s attention with a bullhorn.
“This is for not only the Parkland victims but for all victims of gun violence in Chicago, in Baltimore, in Philadelphia, in Los Angeles, in Oakland, in all these places where people of color are being killed,” an organizer said to thunderous applause. “We stand today not only against gun violence but for jobs for youth, for community resources. We stand for black lives.”
Protesters were asked to raise their hands if they knew someone who had died due to gun violence. Students shouting their gun violence victims’ names peppered the following moment of silence.
Protesters loudly chanted “This is what America looks like” and spoke out against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Donald Trump.
“If we’re not going to look at our government and see what things are being passed, then how are we going to make change in our future?” said a speaker, who went on to note that, although many participants could not vote, they could still play a role in the political process. “Participate in the conversations in your households with your family about who your family is voting for, because you cannot have people in office deciding on different decisions affecting your community when they do not live in your community.”
Another student asked the protesters to show the same solidarity with students from the Englewood neighborhood, where Chicago Public Schools has slated many high schools to close. Students chanted, “Say it big, say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.”
Another organizer remarked, “We have been dying in these streets forever. These kids are born and they get shot, and we can relate to them so easily. This is heartbreaking!”
She said that students born in the year 2000 could vote. “That means you have the possibility to create change! How does that make you feel?” The crowd roared.
A student with the Student Activism Club noted the allotted time was ending and that school officials had warned of disciplinary action. Most of the students returned to school at that time, but a large proportion left campus and marched north on Lake Park Avenue, occasionally disrupting traffic as passing motorists honked horns and extended raised fists through car windows in support. Student protesters began to express more generalized anger about police violence and institutionalized racism.
When asked if he feared punishment, student Byron Williams said he did not. “We’re marching for our rights. Everyone who’s ever been hurt, we’re walking for them.” Some students reported that their parents had encouraged them to join the day’s protests. The protesters chanted, “If we’re not going to march, who is going to march?”
The march attracted increased Chicago Police Department attention as it turned west along 47th Street. Students turned north on Drexel Boulevard and came to a halt at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. College Preparatory High School in Bronzeville, 4419 S. Drexel Blvd. The Kenwood Academy protesters exchanged positive, nonverbal communication with King College Prep students who gathered to watch them from classroom windows, but the marchers’ appeals for King students to leave school and join them were unsuccessful.
At this time, the police let their sirens wail continuously, and the Kenwood Academy protesters turned back south on Drexel Boulevard. “Whose streets? Our streets!” the protesters chanted before launching into first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The protesters continued west on 47th Street and sat down at its intersection at Lake Park Avenue.
Suddenly, students leapt up and sprinted eastward under the railway bridge towards the Lake Shore Drive exit, pursued by quick-moving police vehicles. Two students were briefly handcuffed but released, but another student was led over the barrier from the Lake Shore Drive expressway in handcuffs and driven away in a police van.
This led to a prolonged confrontation between police and Kenwood Academy students. The former chanted “Let her go!” and slowly moved back west along 47th street to the Lake Park Avenue intersection. “We want peace!” they chanted.
CPD later confirmed the student would not be criminally charged and has been released from custody.
Around noon, three Kenwood Academy administrators arrived at the scene and beckoned the remaining students to come back to school. The students complied.
When reached for comment, Kenwood Academy administrators referred the Herald to the CPS Communications Office. At press time, the Herald has received no comment.