Minnesota Students Walk Out Of School To Protest Racial Injustice

When Armya Williams heard last week that a Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer had shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, she knew she needed to do something.

“After Daunte Wright, I was like, ‘Really? It hasn’t even been a year since George Floyd died,’ ” Williams said. “I was just like, we need to do something. So I started brainstorming, getting ideas from other students and I came about a walkout. That’s one way we can get our voices heard.”

Williams, 17, is a senior at Tartan High School in Oakdale, Minn. As she was coordinating plans with other students for her school’s walkout, she learned that high schoolers in other parts of the state were doing the same.

By the time Monday had rolled around, students in dozens of Minnesota schools — from Minneapolis and St. Louis Park to Roseville, Osseo, St. Peter, Sartell and St. Cloud — had signed on to lead marches and rallies to protest racism. They organized on social media.

In Oakdale, with a late April snow blowing from the sky, Williams led a column of hundreds of students — more than a third of the school’s in-person student body — out the front entrance and around the football field.

“Stand in solidarity”

At the same time — just after 1 p.m. — an hour away in central Minnesota, dozens of students rallied around the flagpole at Becker High School, braving blustery winds as they carried signs, chanted and listened to speeches.

Junior Nick Roehl, who helped organize the walkout, said he thought the event was important for the Becker High School community. Recent incidents of name-calling and harassment of LGBTQ students and students of color, he said, made the march all the more timely.

“We really thought it would be appropriate here, especially, to stand up for the Black folks at our school and the students of color. We wanted to stand up for them and also address some things at Becker,” Roehl said.

Erin Deering, a sophomore at Becker High School who identifies as queer, said she has experienced some of that harassment.

“I can’t understand how Black people feel, but I can understand how it feels to be a minority in Becker,” she said. “And so I wanted to come and show my support and stand in solidarity with them and hopefully make a change.”

Becker Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Schmidt sent a letter Sunday night to district staff and students’ families, saying racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism or discrimination against any student has no place in any school, and the district does not tolerate the unfair treatment of any student or staff member.

But Sarah Colford, chair of the district’s American Indian Parent Advisory Council, said she’s heard of students who feel targeted and unsafe due to the stances of the community and their peers.

“It was really hard to hear the experiences of some of the students that are still struggling with some of the racial biases that I experienced when I moved here in 1995,” she said. “And I really thought that we were in a better place.”

“More and more kids stepping up”

In St. James, a small town nearly two hours southwest of the Twin Cities, about 60 students gathered inside their high school’s event center. They observed a moment of silence for people affected by racist violence. Some students took turns sharing their own stories of encounters with racism.

Senior Gabriela Trapero said she learned about the statewide call for action through a classmate on social media.

“I’m just trying to make sure that the families know that we support them and that we are so sorry for their loss,” she said. “I want everybody here to at least want to walk out today knowing that they can advocate for their families and make sure that they get the justice that they deserve and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Nick Brey, 18 and a senior at St. James, sent emails to all the members of their school’s social justice club that let them know about the walkout. Just last summer, Brey and Trapero were involved in organizing a community demonstration after the killing of George Floyd. Since then, they’ve established a social justice club on their campus.

On Monday morning, the student leaders met with their superintendent and activities director to talk about the planned event, where Brey said administrators were “supportive of it,” and that students were finding their place in the ongoing racial justice…

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