In kindergarten, Riverdale High School graduate Jordan McElroy was told she couldn't sit at the same table as her friends because of the color of her skin. In third grade, McElroy was choked by another student because of the color of her skin. Freshman year she was called a monkey because of the color of her skin. And last year, a student took the keys off the computer keyboard and rearranged the letters to spell the F-word and the N-word.
McElroy was one of two black students at her school.
Unfortunately, stories like the one McElroy shared during a student-organized Black Lives Matter protest June 5 in Lake Oswego are far too common among people of color. And as protests erupt across the country, more and more of those stories are pushing their way to the frontlines.
The protests began in major cities across the United States following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by police May 25 in Minneapolis. This week, voices began to emerge from the suburbs as well.
Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism held a vigil in honor of George Floyd Sunday, May 31, another protest march began in Millennium Plaza Park Thursday, June 4, and today hundreds flocked to Millennium Plaza Park to show their support and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
"Racism is a pandemic worse than COVID-19," said Massene Mboup, one of the speakers during the Lake Oswego protest. He reminded the group that today the birthday of Breonna Taylor — a woman who was shot and killed by police in Kentucky almost two months ago. She would have been 27.
Many voices stood out in the crowd Friday afternoon. Students spoke out, leaders of Respond to Racism spoke out and other prominent leaders in the Lake Oswego community like Superintendent Lora de la Cruz also shared their voices.
"I am the superintendent of the Lake Oswego School District. I am also the daughter of a Mexican immigrant … I am also the mother of children with brown skin. While my lived experiences are not the same as the lived experiences of any of you, I do understand the experiences of oppression, discrimination, bias and racism," de la Cruz said. "We're here together in this pivotal moment, in this pivotal movement and we cannot look away. We cannot look away from too many black lives lost; we cannot look away from the historical and current pain and wounding caused by systemic racism. In fact we must look it in the eye."
Young people took turns on center stage, encouraging people to vote, donate to supportive organizations, sign petitions and email elected officials to make sure their voices and concerns are heard.
Bruce Poinsette, vice president of RtR, said if people unite, they can make a difference. His dream, though small he said, was to leave the protest today with 20 new RtR volunteers.
"We could be a force with 20 more people," said Poinsette, adding that when everyone throughout the country unites in their shared struggles and combines resources "we will be unstoppable."
While many messages rang throughout the crowd, one was clear: that the work to end systemic racism is far from over and will need to extend far past the sea of faces in the crowd in order to make true change.
"We have not gotten it right," de la Cruz said. "We must do better."
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