Tualatin, Tigard students participate in 5-mile Black Lives Matter march
On Thursday morning, June 11, Matt Brown, leader of the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union, discussed his plans to participate in that day's march, set for 3:05 p.m., that would take students from Tualatin High School and through local neighborhoods before reaching their destination of Tigard High School.
The Student March for Black Lives was being held to honor Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old African American youth in Cleveland who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014 after an officer mistook his replica pistol for a real one.
This would have been the year Rice graduated from high school, which led many students at the march to wear their caps and gowns out of respect.
Along with the Tigard-Tualatin Student Union, members of both the Tigard High School and Tualatin High School Black Student Unions planned the march as well.
"Most the time it's really easy to, you know, close the curtains on things that are happening around the world and pretend they're not happening out here, and it's really easy to do that because we have a nice distance out in our rosy little suburb. But the fact is, these things are happening here," said Brown, a Tualatin High grad who will attend the University of California, Berkeley, in the fall.
"There are racial disparities. There (is) systemic repression inside our school systems, too, and we just want to make a point and be visible to our community that people are going through these things even in Tigard and Tualatin," he said.
Even before 2 p.m., students began gathering in the south parking lot of Tualatin High School, swelling to a group that numbered an estimated 400 people before the event began.
"It's a first step to make people understand they can actually make change," said Abdi Mohamoud, president of the Tigard High School Black Student Union and an incoming senior, noting that the march was a way to "show the power" of student voices.
Mohamoud estimated Tigard High's black population comprises only 2% of the student body.
"Oftentimes there's a big problem with hate speech, not understanding the meaning of the "N" word … racial slurs are passed on a lot," Mohamoud said. "Microaggressions are a big problem. I feel if they can do all this work on the top level, but if they don't get into the roots of the issue, it (is) never going to be fixed."
Mohamoud was part of a group of students who attended a Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting Monday, June 8, where four of five members signed a resolution condemning racism and committing to being an anti-racist school district.
He said he felt the school board used a condescending tone, saying he was angry that one of the board members, Sharon Fox, didn't vote for the resolution, something that showed "we have a lot of work to do."
The resolution was drafted by students and Tigard-Tualatin School Board member Ben Bowman.
Another march organizer, Sarah Gentry, Tigard High School Associated Student Body president and a recent graduate, said she was excited about the size of the crowd, many of whom were carrying signs.
She said her initial expectation was that at least 100 to 200 people would show up.
"We're really hoping to show our school board that students are banded around this, and we all have a common goal and we're all really invested in this, so I think it's just showing (that) students believe the time is now for change and we need our school board to get on board with that," said Gentry who spoke at a school board work session on Monday as well.
Still, she said the fact the board passed the resolution gave her a sense of hope that they are willing to grow and change.
"Our ultimate goal is just to show we support the Black Lives Matter movement and to make our black students feel really supported," said Gentry, who is headed to the University of Oregon in the fall.
Bowman, the Tualatin-Tigard School Board member, was among those in the crowd.
"You can see the students poured their hearts and souls into the work and I'm excited to support them here today, too," Bowman said.
Also in the parking lot was Oregon House District 35 Rep. Margaret Doherty, who carried a cardboard sign reading: "Protesting is a part of making change BLM"
"It is so fun to see these kids. They can make a difference," Doherty said. "I think after 50 years of talking about it, I think something will finally be done about it — about racism and profiling people."
Then, shortly before 3 p.m., the gathered group made its five-mile trek from Tualatin High School to Tigard High School, traveling through nearby neighborhoods, as well as the city of Durham, before arriving in Tigard two hours later.
"We got to Tigard around 5 p.m. where (Tigard Mayor Jason Snider) greeted us and a ton of people left their posters on the fence, which was beautiful and really showed how many people showed up," Gentry texted after the event. "I loved seeing the passion of other students and the power of our community when we all come together."
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