Youth activists protest outside Oak Park Police Department on election night
By Helen Quinn Pasin | November 10, 2020
“President Trump, the man who threatened to send Black people back to Africa and said that our Black youth have nothing to lose and that we are uneducated and unemployed and useless,” Ray Longstreet, 16, started the rally by asking, “Is that who people want in office?”
Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League (ROYAL) organized a “We Save Us” protest on the evening of the election. ROYAL members highlighted the racist record of President Donald J. Trump and drew attention to the discrimination and marginalization they face in their own community, including racial profiling by Oak Park police. Speakers criticized White Oak Park residents for not doing more to support their neighbors of color, including in their calls to defund the police.
“No matter the outcome of the election, Black and brown people are going to be heavily affected by the end result,” Chloe Leach, 17, said. “Our communities are underfunded while our criminalization is overfunded.”
Elizabeth Bronaugh, 17, asked the crowd to do better in supporting youth of color in order for the community to regain agency and heal from oppression. “Oak Park is known for its performative activism. At every event we organize, we ask the community for their support, and we are met with restive narratives,” Bronaugh said.
Taylor Montes-Williams, 16, addressed the privilege of White Oak Parkers who have the choice to disengage with politics. “Some of you in this crowd have the ability to turn on the news and watch the events unfold like an HBO drama,” Montes-Williams said.
Youth activists from ROYAL held a Black Lives Matter banner outside the Oak Park Police Department on election night 2020. (Photo/Helen Quinn Pasin)
“ROYAL as well as other groups built from youth of color are tired of expressing our pain publicly for it to be a photo and a newspaper article and cast aside. While we may be young, we are just as much a part of society as everyone else,” Montes-Williams concluded her speech by saying. “Fight for the voices that can’t speak today, fight for us because we save us.”
ROYAL was founded in 2018 at Percy Julian Middle School. At the time, there was a community initiative to include more teachers of color in the Oak Park public school system. Current ROYAL member Marlene Meraz Brito was a seventh-grader at the time and wanted to distribute a survey on the issue. According to Marlene’s mother and ROYAL’s advisor Cynthia Brito, 35, Principal Todd Fitzgerald wouldn’t allow the survey, or even speak with her about it. Meraz Brito paired with high school student Antoine Ford, who faced a similar problem at Julian in the past, and they began organizing to create a safe space for students of color to talk about racial aggression.
The group began by fighting back against an initiative led by Julian’s teachers to increase disciplinary action, arguing that the change would disproportionately impact students of color. Since then, they’ve helped and supported Freedom to Thrive, a group of lawyers, data scientists, engineers, activists, and parents who organize against racial profiling by police. In July 2020, Freedom to Thrive produced an investigative report on males of color stopped by Oak Park police since 2015, which proved the alarming statistic that 97% of youth males stopped by Oak Police are Black.
ROYAL has also worked hard to galvanize candidates of color to run for village trustee and created safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth of color. ROYAL Advisor Brito said, “I really want adults to trust young people. There is so much adultism that they face from all sides. They deserve more respect for who they are and what they have accomplished.”
This report by Freedom to Thrive came out in July 2020 with help and support from ROYAL. Freedom to Thrive posted it on Facebook with the caption: “Black males are most likely to be stopped by Oak Park Police even though only 18% of Oak Park’s population is Black. The racial disparity in police stops is most striking when looking at the youth stopped by police. According to Oak Park Police Department’s records, Oak Park police stopped 967 people between January 2015 through June 2020 for field interrogations. Of these 967 total stops, 907 were males. Of all these males stopped, 94 were younger than 18, and of these minors, 91 were Black. Only one white minor (male or female) was stopped over these same five and a half years.” (Photo/Freedom to Thrive).