A group of four African American female teenagers were behind the July 11 peaceful protest at Millennium Park that attracted over 200 participants of various ages and ethnicities. Although the girls hail from the South Side, the protesters came from all over the city, including the West Side.
The girls, 16-year-olds Maxine Wint and Eva Lewis, and 17-year-olds Natalie Braye and Sophia Byrd, coordinated the demonstration after Wint tweeted a call to action from her Twitter handle, @beneatheskyline, in order to rally young people around the issues of gun violence and police brutality in Chicago and throughout the country. Leadin up to the event, Wint’s call to action was retweeted over 1,400 times and liked 900 times.
“I’m just proud of myself and my friends for organizing this,” said Braye, adding that they consider organizations like Black Lives Matter Chicago, Assata’s Daughters and The Let Us Breathe Collective allies.
“I had no idea we were capable of doing this and definitely makes me excited for the future for change could come about and we could possibly create that change,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m not alone. I know I’m not alone but everyone here supports our movement and supports what we are trying to do and that makes me so happy.”
Braye said she hopes that the demonstration catches the attention of politicians and other policymakers with its model of inclusion and message of exasperation.
“The youth are tired of what’s going on,” Braye said, “and we need them to make a change.”
Although the protest was organized and implemented by teenagers, a few adults lent a helping hand, too. Lewis said she and her fellow organizers received guidance from BYP 100, an organization comprised of young adult dedicated to justice for all African Americans, who encouraged lawyers, nurses and other professionals to offer their expertise at the protest.
“We got water and all kinds of free stuff because adults saw us and said, ‘This is the next generation, they’re doing what we’re doing, too,'” said Lewis. “At one time (adult organizers) were youths and they were looking to someone and that cycle has to keep going. If we don’t look up to other people the cycle stops.”
Following the silent protest, attendees marched to a rally at Federal Plaza for a separate but related Black Lives Matter protest. The Federal Plaza protest and rally led to a police-escorted march across downtown that led to several street closures.
Austin resident Jasmine Walter, 16, learned about the silent protest from various social media platforms. She said throughout her life she’s seen people within her community treated unjustly by Chicago police officers and she wanted to make her voice heard.
“I feel like everybody matters, but it seems like it’s the African Americans who are being hurt the most by police and other authorities and I feel like we need a change instead of killing our brothers and sisters,” said Walter.
To stay current with the latest from Wint, Lewis, Braye and Byrd follow the hashtag #BLMChiYouth across social media.