Striving for Peace

South students march in solidarity with unity

Erykah Benson, Editor-in-Chief

At 3:05 p.m., the bell rang, and students filed out of the building just like any other day. But what wasn’t per usual was the group of students who met on South’s front lawn, clutching picket signs and flags. The temperature was 50 degrees fahrenheit. Biting wind. A clear blue sky. Students could almost see their breaths escaping like ghosts from their teeth as they shouted, “Love not fear.” 

Students promote awareness for LGBT and women's rights.
Students promote awareness for LGBT and women’s rights. Photo by Riley Lynch ’18

Two nights earlier, Michael Grady ‘17, the original organizer of the demonstration, began sending out texts late into the night about plans to assemble a rally after school.

On Friday, a message was delivered over the PA by several of South’s students during fifth hour. Those who spoke included Principal Moussa Hamka, Riley Lynch ‘18, Liam Walsh ‘18, co-founder of Young Democrats for Freedom, Grady and Charlie Yoo’ 17, Secretary of Young Americans for Freedom.

The students spoke to clarify that the demonstration was neither to protest the presidency nor president-elect Donald Trump himself.

“It has been a long, and at times, bitter political season, and its divide has made its way to South,” Walsh said.

Yoo emphasized not to come and provoke anyone at the rally.

“I’m here to say that all political viewpoints are invited to come. I encourage you to come and discuss ideas,” Yoo said.

Students gather in solidarity for equality.
Students gather in solidarity for equality for people of different minority groups. Photo by Riley Lynch ’18

Hamka clarified the qualifications and rules for a student demonstration.

“As an administrative team, we walk a very delicate line between guiding our students and censoring our students,” Hamka said.

According to the Student Code of Conduct, which can be referred to in the student handbook and calendar, students are prohibited from assembling strikes or demonstrations, which would include assembling strikes or demonstrations, which would include refusing to go to class, leaving a class, disobeying a teacher, or refusing to leave the school premises.

“However,” Hamka said, “demonstrations that occur before or after school that do not disturb the learning environment, is permissible. Our number one job is to protect that teaching environment. That is the most important thing that we do here.”

Roughly three hours later, students left the building and began to march. Starting on the front lawn, they marched past the athletic building. Shouting “Let love win”, they walked past the football field. Turning the corner toward the Hill on Kercheval, they said in unison “Love trumps hate” and “Peace not hate”. Past shops and restaurants, they made their way around the Hill and looped around back to South.

Students voice their feelings of the necessity to come together for unity and diversity.
Students voice their feelings of the necessity to come together for unity and diversity. Photo by Riley Lynch ’18

Halfway through the rally, a boy with a Trump flag joined the crowd and walked among the students. Together, LaShun O’Rear ‘18 and the unidentified student walked back down Fisher. O’Rear was wrapped in a pride flag, the other boy, in a Trump flag.

Different people marched in the rally for different reasons. For Samantha Cannon ‘18, it was for better treatment of her friends, who are members of the LGBT community or other minority groups, she said.

For Rockim Williamson ‘18, he said he was there because it meant a lot more than staying at home.

“Me speaking my mind and having a voice is much more powerful than not showing up at all,” Williamson said. When asked whether or not he felt that the country is currently representing him, he answered no. “In the past year, we have just been having a lot of, what’s the word ‘interesting’, quote-on-quote events going on, and I feel like America is a lot better than what has been going on recently,” Williamson said.

Rockim Williamson '18 holds a "Black lives matter" sign during the unity rally.
Rockim Williamson ’18 holds a “Black lives matter” sign during the unity rally. Photo by Riley Lynch ’18

For Molly Cacia ‘19, it was for her family.

“When I was seven years old, my grandfather got deported back to Cuba in the midst of his documentation,” Cacia said. “And I’ve never seen him since, just because it’s really hard to get back to Cuba, and this is just an important issue to me, because I have a lot of family who are immigrants.”

In her hands, Cacia held a poster. Written in black marker, the poster read “Ninguna persona es illegal” which translates to “No one is illegal” in Spanish.

“It’s just such a serious topic to me and a lot of other people,” Cacia said. “Because the amount of immigrants in this country is kind of what made it great in the first place, and the fact that so many people want us out, it’s so unfortunate because this country was honestly built on immigrants.”

Among the signs in the crowd, each one had a different message. “Love trumps hate”, “Girls are not for grabbing”, “Black lives matter” and “You are loved”.

Grady held a sign that read “Liberty and justice for all”. He said he felt good about the outcome of the rally.

At first, Yoo said he didn’t like the idea of the rally.

“It’d really just lead to people getting more angry at each other, especially considering I thought it was more of an anti-Trump rally, that’s initially what it was, or at least I don’t think was the original intention, but that’s what it became,” Yoo said. “Now, I think it turned out as well as it could. I mean, I don’t like rallies in general, but I think it was a good day, and from what I heard, it turned out really well.”

Whether it be for women’s rights, LGBT rights, rights for black people, rights for immigrants or just in solidarity for peace, Hamka said, based on his comments on unity he made this past Wednesday, to see students in action is inspiring.

“Anytime we have students coming from both sides to promote unity and inclusion, I think we’re working towards achieving our goal,” Hamka said.

Yoo said moving on, there should be more discussion.

“I don’t like the rally format. I think it’d be better if people talked about issues, like debate, actually learn about the issues, you know, not just count on what they hear from the news, just actually do some research and do some out-of-school reading,” Yoo said. “That’s the best way to move forward and actually learn something.”

Some of the protesters offered solutions that would lead to peace, in both the school, and the country as a whole.

“A good high school experience would be something where students are accepted, and everyone is loved,” Emilio Garcia ‘20 said. “ I’m not saying that disagreement is bad because that’s what the human race thrives on. But, I think we’ve just been experiencing some backwardness with morals, because there’s definitely a lot of hate present in our school, and I just think that an ideal high school is where hate isn’t present, and we can all kind of agree to disagree and we can all be one student body, you know?”

Grady said it was great to be able to stand together as South students and as a community.

“That’s what we need more of in this country,” Grady said.

Lara Hoffman ‘19 said the current environment of South is shaky.

“Hatred is a snake,” Hoffman said. “And the poison is the hate and discrimination that everybody faces in some point in their lives. And unity and happiness and friendship, is the antidote to that poison. And I believe that if we come together, as a school and as a community, we can make a difference.”

Hoffman offered one final piece of advice for South students.

“Keep the peace. Ignore hate. If you see someone crying in that hallway, I want you to give that person a hug, and I want you to be their friend.”

Student wrapped in pride flag and student wrapped in Trump flag walk side by side. All photos by Riley Lynch '18
One student with a pride flag and one with a Trump flag walking side by side. 
Photo by Riley Lynch ’18

Audio of the students at the rally:

“Everything is better when we work together”

“Peace not hate”