116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Deronte Strong, 12, wants to be able to walk down the street without fear of judgment or violence by the police because he's Black.
The sixth-grader at Regis Middle School spoke Friday at a student-led 'March on Washington” inspired by the famous Aug. 28, 1963, March on Washington, D.C., led by Martin Luther King Jr.
That original march was a protest of some 250,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial for civil rights, jobs and freedom.
Here, the march was organized through the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Corridor. The students walked a few blocks from the corner of 361 17th Street SE and Washington Avenue SE, chanting 'What time is it? Time for us to stand. Time for us to lead. Time for us to speak.”
They stopped in front of First Congregational United Church of Christ, where kids spoke to the crowd of over 60 from the top of the church's concrete steps.
Deronte's two-minute speech was about the importance of equality.
'People look at you differently and think you're a bad person because of what you wear or the color of your skin,” Deronte said. 'I don't think that's right.”
JaeCis Wright, 15, a Washington High School freshman, came up with the idea for the march to pay homage to people who marched in 1963.
She also was inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests last summer in Cedar Rapids, which were sparked by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
JaeCis has been attending Boys & Girls Club for 10 years and now is a junior staff member. She recently launched a new program, which she named JaeCism after herself, and was the keynote speaker Friday at the march. The program's tagline was 'JaeCism is not Racism: A Movement, not a Moment.”
JaeCism is a network of about 50 students to talk about race, bullying or any other problems they're facing, she said.
'It's time to stand up,” JaeCis said. 'You're never too young to be a civil rights activist.”
JaeCis said she wanted the march to be a chance for students to speak freely and for adults to listen to what they have to say.
Lori Ampley, lead unit director for the east side for the Boys & Girls Club, said in her 21 years with the program this is the first time kids have taken the initiative to create a completely student-organized event.
'I think it's seeing racial injustice and the division between Black and white people in our nation,” Ampley said.
Montreal Cunningham, 11, a sixth grade student at Franklin Middle School, spoke about racial profiling.
Montreal said during the event he wants to be able to walk through Walmart without the employees watching him just because he's Black.
'I hope for a better world in the future,” Montreal. 'I hope somebody listens and realizes the things that need to change like people not talking to you because you're a different color or giving you a weird look in the street.”
Thierry Boyd, 13, a seventh-grader, spoke as a student-athlete. He plays football and basketball at McKinley STEAM Academy.
Thierry wanted to encourage students to prioritize academics before athletics, 'work hard, and do your best,” he said.
He said he was moved after attending a Black Lives Matter last summer, and wants to continue the momentum.
Though still a seventh-grader, Thierry hopes to play someday for the NFL or be a lawyer.
Jayla Strong, 11, a sixth-grader at McKinley STEAM Academy and cousin to Deronte, represented the Saving Our Sisters program and talked about the importance of sisterhood and feeling empowered to walk away from potentially dangerous situations.
The march is a 'big step” forward for equality since the Black Lives Matter marches of last summer, Jayla said.
Jacqueline Luna, 17, a senior at Prairie High School, introduced a new program for Latino youth during the march - the Youth Latino Leadership Group - for 8th through 12th-graders.
While the group still is in the process of organizing, Jacqueline said they plan to meet one or two times a week and be a time for students to get advice about high school and college applications and learn Spanish.
'There are a lot of youth organizations out there, but not many for young Latinos,” she said.
For more information about JaeCism, email JaeCism@inmyclub.org.
For more information about the Youth Latino Leadership Group, contact YPN at (319) 64-8909 or contact the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Corridor at (319) 363-5766.
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