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It was a characteristically chilly December day, but Democracy Prep Charter High senior, Kevin L. wasn’t going to let the weather get in the way of his mission.
Holding his handmade poster board tightly, and ignoring the cold wind that whipped his locks around his face, he stood quietly in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. government building on 125th Street in West Harlem.
Twenty of his classmates laid silently on the on the ground in a circle around him, also clutching poster boards filled with grim statistics and demands for justice.
An hour earlier, the scholars had been inside of a warm classroom at DPCH, creating signs, discussing court cases in the news, and hyping each other up to participate in a march around the West side of Harlem in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The march was also a part of Kevin’s Change The World project. Each year Democracy Prep seniors are required to develop a capstone project that has a community engagement component.
“Since the surge in police brutality crimes has come to light, I’ve wanted to find out more about how we can effectively teach people about their rights and how to handle interactions with the police, “ Kevin said. “I went to one of the Black Lives Matter marches, and I was inspired to conduct a march as part of my project.”
The first stop on the march was the local police station on 135th between 7th and 8th Avenues. As they rounded the corner of 135th Street, the scholars grew silent, glancing at each other nervously, before following the signal to lie down in front of the building.
“To be honest I was scared,” Kevin said. “When we were in front of the police station, there was a bunch of a police officers staring at us. It was intimidating.”
“As they laid down in silence staring up at the sky in the blistering cold, I thought that they were sending a message not only to police, but to the greater Harlem community,” says DPCH math teacher, and Kevin’s CTW mentor, Chandell Stone.
Next, the group made their way to the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Blvd, passing by the granite statue of the famed politician before taking their spot in the center of the concrete courtyard.
Passersby shouted words of encouragement and stopped to read the signs, but the black tape covering his mouth prevented him from responding as Harlem residents walked by and shouted out chants of encouragement.
“Having people stop to look, reading signs, and shouting out chants made me even more motivated,” Kevin said.
On the march back, the black tape now removed from their mouths, the scholars shouted out the words to the call and response chants that have come to be the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement:
“What do we want?”
“When do we want it?”
Once back in the building, the scholar’s’ energy remained high. They chatted about the experience and talked about how empowering it felt to have their voices heard. Kevin says he was overwhelmed by their support and dedication to the mission.
“It felt good,” he says. “Everyone was there to support me, and because they had a drive to bring awareness to an issue that we really care about.”
This story is part of a two-part series documenting the efforts of scholars at Democracy Prep Charter High to contribute their voices to the Black Lives Matter movement. Check out part two here