June 23, 2020
Growing up in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as a mixed African American girl exposed me to a normalized landscape of casual racism and proudly displayed Confederate flags. The education I received in my school district perpetuated the belief that racism was a relic of the past, until a pivotal moment when I was 16 shattered that illusion.
On June 23, 2020, I attended a Black Lives Matter protest and experienced a seismic shift from passive observation of racism to committed activism against it. I’d spent years silently listening to the ignorance in my school and town and wanted to take part in a movement that would create real change.
This day marked not just a protest but a defining moment that steered my life toward advocacy.
The morning of the protest was full of anxious planning. I’d been following the news, which was a constant reminder of the risks and dangers protesters faced, like arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets, but I could no longer hide behind the safety of a screen. It was time to embody the change I wished to see.
My best friend Kayla and I made shirts and signs before starting the 30-minute drive to Market Square in Manheim, Pennsylvania. I was constantly wiping my sweaty palms on my freshly ironed T-shirt that boldly proclaimed, “Treat Black Lives With Kindness.”
When we arrived at the protest, we saw around 50 people, young and old, surrounding a gazebo as a parked truck blasted Tupac’s “Changes.” Everyone was engaged in conversation, laughter and smiles, creating an atmosphere drastically different from the violent environment the media had portrayed.
Organizers handed out a “Know Your Rights” guide and a contact number for legal aid in case of arrests. The sense of community and preparation was both empowering and unnerving.
We gathered in the street, initiating our march and powerfully chanting “Whose lives matter? Black Lives Matter!” Marching proudly, Kayla and I held our signs high above our heads, passionately shouting the names of Black men, women and children who fell victim to police brutality.
Despite the scorching summer day, chills ran through my body as we continued to walk. People along the route cheered us on, some even joining our ranks.
The gravity of the moment reached its peak when we laid flat on our stomachs on the hot blacktop for nine minutes and 29 seconds in front of the Manheim Police Station to honor George Floyd.
We continued to march, but as we approached a hill, an organizer urgently directed us to walk backward. I was confused until I spotted a tall white man at the end of his driveway holding a firearm.
The slow-motion horror intensified, and I couldn’t shake the fear that gripped me, realizing my safe return home was far from guaranteed. Suddenly, my hands were raised and I was chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” with the rest of the protestors.
We were deeply unsettled, but we pushed forward and safely made it past the man’s house. We stood our ground, refusing to let one individual, who intended to intimidate the crowd, deter us from advocating for change.
Our path led us back to Market Square, where the protest concluded with individuals sharing personal stories and offering encouragement to persist in the fight for justice.
The drive home with Kayla was a mix of smiles and tears, a reflection of the dual nature of that transformative day. The protest was a singular event that became a catalyst for my personal growth and commitment to understanding, listening and educating.
My journey toward advocacy didn’t end with that protest. Instead, it marked the beginning of a sustained effort to challenge ignorance, promote dialogue and effect change.
As the summer ended and high school resumed, I initiated a series of research projects in my classes focusing on issues the Black Lives Matter movement aimed to address: racial profiling, mass incarceration and wrongful convictions.
I presented the projects to my peers and teachers and, for the first time, they sparked meaningful conversations that fueled my passion for advocacy.
By senior year, I was applying to colleges that would allow me to explore this passion. Temple’s diverse environment and communication and social influence major aligned with my aspirations the most, so attending emerged as my natural next step.
In my second semester at Temple, I added a journalism minor to enhance my storytelling abilities, recognizing the power of effective communication in challenging the status quo. So far, through coursework and extracurricular activities, like Planned Parenthood Generation Action, a reproductive rights student organization that I create graphics and host events for, I’ve developed a profound understanding of the media’s role in social progress.
That summer day in 2020 was more than a protest; it was a foundational experience that shaped my life moving forward. It propelled me toward Temple, where I intend to leverage the power of journalism and communication to actively contribute to societal change.
On June 23, 2020, I learned real change requires more than passive awareness. It demands active engagement, a commitment to understanding and a dedication to continuous education.
The transformative experience, etched into the fabric of my being, always lingers in the back of my mind. My journey is an ongoing testament to the belief that even in the face of adversity, the pursuit of justice and equality defines not just a moment but a lifetime.