Teenagers from Berkeley High brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the Berkeley Hills Tuesday, speaking out against the city’s history of redlining and segregation and demanding that wealthy, white communities take on challenging conversations and actions to address systemic racism.
The three-hour march began at Ashby BART and ended at Codornices Park, two distinct symbols of the formerly majority-Black, now gentrified Lorin District, and the predominantly white, wealthy North Berkeley. Shayla Avery, 16, and Ultraviolet Schneider-Dwyer, 17, who organized the march, were clear about their intention from the beginning, and spoke about it during the protest.
“We’re here to wake the Berkeley Hills the fuck up! Because they think it’s okay to put up a sign, and then call it a day,” Avery said, addressing the crowd of about 250 young protesters who showed up on a cool, overcast afternoon. “There are people up there that do not fuck with Black people, and will not do that ever. There’s a reason why I don’t feel comfortable going up there. There’s a reason I don’t know the names of those streets.”
Avery, who told Berkeleyside recently how redlining and its local impact is not addressed properly in the BHS curriculum, talked to the crowd about how decades before and after WWII, banks in Berkeley, and cities throughout the Unites States, refused loans to Black residents in parts of the Berkeley Hills, and nearby areas. This forced them to create cultural and economic communities in South Berkeley, which were disrupted and displaced by the construction of Ashby BART in the 1960s.
The young protesters organized the march after being inspired by two Oakland teens who drew 15,000 people to a June 1 protest in Oakland, and the Pay Your Dues gathering drew a handful of children with their parents, along with many teenagers. Chaga Kwania graduated from Berkeley High in 2006 and brought his two daughters, 10-year-old Crishayla Moreland and 9-year-old Amiyah Moreland.
“I liked today because it showed that Black lives matter,” Crishayla said. It wasn’t the girls’ first protest — they’d also attended an action in the past honoring Oscar Grant. “I got to support my people and the Black communities, and think about relatives…and other people who got killed due to their color,” Amiyah said.
With chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of youth, ’cause the power of youth don’t stop,” the group danced, sang, marched and protested down Ashby and Shattuck avenues, through downtown and up Rose Street. They blasted N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” as they ascended the hill, and shouted “Join us” and “Out of your homes, into the streets” when residents emerged from homes to clap, cheer on protesters, and display “Black Lives Matter” signs.
Police were not present or visible at any point during the march, and Berkeley firefighters honked for protesters after the group separated on Shattuck to make way for their truck.
Everyone in the march wore masks and organizers had set up PPE stations with water bottles and snacks at two points along the route.
The two organizers of the protest are both dancers, and music and dance were crucial to the theme of celebrating “Black Joy” throughout the action. The protesters hiked up to Euclid Avenue to a soundtrack of Black Bay Area musicians Mac Dre, Keak Da Sneak, Mistah F.A.B, Kamaiyah and E-40, and finally arrived at Codornices Park around 6 p.m., without having taken any breaks in a roughly 2.5-mile march.
Over the last few weeks, Berkeley High students have presented successful demands to Berkeley Unified School District, organized a “Black Lives Matter” mural project that scooped the city’s own plans for a similar mural, and held more consecutive protests than any other Berkeley group since the police killing of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
Now, after chants and protest for three hours, a moment of meditation and silence for all the Black lives lost to police violence. A former BHS student is leading the moment for "those named and unnamed." They're next going to set up a candlelight vigil at the Rose Garden. pic.twitter.com/ho5nTOEp83
— Supriya Yelimeli (@SupriyaYelimeli) June 24, 2020
Their mood was victorious on Tuesday, but Avery and other speakers demanded more from the large numbers of white protesters who came to the gathering. Schneider-Dwyer, who Avery introduced as a “white ally,” told the group to “get out of your discomfort” and take concrete actions to support Black Lives Matter, instead of just adopting a title, putting up a sign, or attending a protest to share photos on social media.
The organizers repeatedly called out white attendees, and the message resonated with many. Lotte Offe, who grew up in Berkeley, said she attended her first-ever protest for racial justice a couple weeks ago, and said the gatherings almost felt “healing” to her.
“When they call us out, I’m just like, keep doing that – it’s the right thing to do. I let whatever is being shared hit me hard – and don’t put up walls, or congratulate yourself,” said Offe, who described ongoing discussions about race with those who won’t hear it from the protesters, like coworkers, family members, and friends, in addition to donating and showing up in the streets. “I want to bring this energy into all the spaces I’m part of as a white person. This reaches to every level and every space.”
With the backdrop of a misty, and picturesque Berkeley Rose Garden, the protesters held up candles and cellphone lights and read the names of people killed by police – Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile, Tony McDade and many others – and the names of influential voices in the racial justice movement like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Marsha P. Johnson.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, and many have continued to stay home for their safety, residents in the Berkeley Hills have organized demonstrations in support Black Lives Matter over the last several weeks. After two Black girls were called the N-word at Indian Rock Park, about a mile from Codornices Park, residents held a protest at the location and another one at Marin Circle. A handful of homes in the neighborhood were displaying “Black Lives Matter” banners, and one neighbor had posted flyers with resources and organizations that are accepting donations to support Black communities.
The young protesters acknowledged some of these efforts, but told residents to join movements created by Black women and Black people instead of pursuing actions without their guidance. Avery also expressed sadness and frustration that attention was paid to Black lives only when someone is killed, instead of a constant celebration of Black culture, Black joy and Black life.
“I don’t want to say any more names. I don’t want to be next,” Avery said, holding back tears. “So don’t let me. Do your part.”
The protest concluded with the group of Black, brown and white youth sitting cross-legged on the concrete in a somber mood, overlooking the entire city, and closed with a 5-minute moment of silence to remember those who had died, reflect on the change necessary in their local community, and meditate on Black joy, song and culture as a form of protest that filled the streets earlier the day.