On Saturday, Aug. 24, students fled campuses and treaded the streets, clenching their fists in the air and chanting, “The people united will never be defeated.” Little ones twirled American flags and danced on the steps of freedom. Those too small stood tall, perched upon the shoulders of their parents, embracing the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr.
Preceding the thousands that marched in the “Realize the Dream” rally was 9-year-old Asean Johnson, who captivated the hearts of over 100,000 people. The student and activist at the Marcus Garvey School in Chicago expressed his gratification at being the youngest speaker and talked about issues of education, justice and freedom.
“Every child deserves a great education, and every school deserves equal funding and resources,” the young activist further explained. “I have a dream we shall overcome.”
Youth Director for the National Action Network Mary Pat Hector, 15, was another young orator at the march. Hector spoke about atrocities that plague the African-American community like stop-and-frisk, voter suppression and unlawful racial profiling.
“I am here to say, we are not who they say we are. We are more than what they ever could have imagined, and more than what they ever could have expected,” she said.
After the oration, the young activist marched toward the MLK Memorial. Young picketers held signs about the slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. A young woman bellowed, “Show me what democracy looks like.”
“This is what the democracy looks like!” cried the cheering crowd in response.
Wiping the sweat trickling from her brow, University of Charlotte student Gloria Merriweather, 21, said, “Young people don’t have much of a voice.” Adding, “They need to let us in on what’s going on, and they don’t. Instead, they speak for us, not with us.”
“If kids had a voice, I bet something could get done,” said James Malow, a 13-year-old student from St. Mary of the Hills School in Randolph, Mass.
During the march, the youth could not be silenced and were vocal about issues like accumulated debt through college loans.
“I have teachers who have been teaching for 20 years and are still paying back student loans. I don’t want us to be like that; it’s not fair,” said Valencia College student Hydea Mills, 18, from Orlando, Fla.
In addition, the young activists felt misrepresented and were strongly discouraged about the verdict of the Trayvon Martin trial.
“In the Trayvon Martin case, we clearly had no say in that. We couldn’t voice our reason; no one would actually listen, no adult would,” said Ian Houston, 15, of northern Virginia.
“We have been affected so much in these last couple years, with all the killings that have been happening with our young Black youth,” said Arryn James, an 18-year-old student at Delaware State University.
According to the youths in Washington, D.C., that day, we all are impacted by politics and should be responsible for being the change in the world we live in. “This not only touches us; this touches every aspect that is connected to us,” said Arryn James.