By Ariele Vaccaro
It’s not all the time that students have the opportunity to live their lessons.
As violence breaks out among communities like those in Baltimore, an eighth grade social studies class at Universal Academy for the College Bound found itself marching in a call for the end of that violence.
On April 29, students took to the sidewalk, donning handmade signs, chanting the words “Black lives matter; stop the violence!”
Despite the unseasonable cold and wind, the children marched on, down Silver Spring Drive. They waved to drivers who expressed support with a beep of their car’s horn. The students’ social studies teacher, Chris Conley, revived the chanting when student voices began to fade.
To Conley, the march was dual-purposed. It allowed students to live their lessons on the First Amendment — the right to peaceably assemble and the right to free speech. Not only that, but being able to experience protest first-hand as a participant gave students insight on what current issues require their attention and their efforts as nonviolent protestors.
In light of police killings of unarmed Black men and recent riots in Baltimore, Conley wanted students to know how they can express their desire for change without violence.
“We’re actually using our constitutional rights to push a message, to push a strong message – and it’s, ‘Stop the violence in our communities,’” said Conley.
As the eighth graders made their way down Silver Spring Dr., midday traffic offered eyes to read their colorful cardboard signs.
Students took turns leading the march and speaking into a bullhorn. The further they walked, the louder their chants grew.
Tori Lowe is a community activist. He attended the march, and taught one student how to use the buttons on the bullhorn.
To Tori, what the students had to say was invaluable.
“The youth has a voice,” said Lowe. “And it’s our job to make sure that we give them an environment for their voice to be heard.”
Lowe acknowledged that Milwaukee is no less susceptible than other cities to experience violence in the form of riots.
“Milwaukee is just one incident away from being Baltimore,” Lowe said.
Halfway through the march, District 4 State Senator Lena Taylor stopped the children to encourage their work.
When the group returned to school, they sat down, took a breath, and told Conley what they learned.
There’s one thing that Lowe hoped they took away from the march. “If they can take that away and learn how to resolve these issues with their heads and not their fists, then we won.”