Juneteenth rally organizers call for schools to take action on student demands
By ERIN ROLL
More than 1,000 students from across Essex County came together in Montclair for the New Jersey Student Blackout on Juneteenth, June 19.
On Thursday evening, some of the rally’s student organizers took the next steps, by bringing the demands of the students before the Montclair Board of Education, and called for board members to begin taking formal action on them.
Shayla George, A.J. Christian and Arnelle Larose, three of the student organizers, appeared before the board to formally present the demands that the students wished to see accomplished as a result of the rally. George is a Montclair High School graduate who served as the president of the Black Student Union during her time at the school. Christian and Larose are both graduates of Montclair Kimberley Academy.
When planning a protest, it’s important to have an end goal, Christian said. The demands that the students are presenting are the end goal of the rally.
The demands include a rethinking of the role of police in schools, improved mental health support for students affected by systemic racism, twice-monthly school-wide discussions on the effects of racism and how to address them, professional development for White and non-Black teachers, and stronger relationships between Black student groups and school administrators.
Students have already been playing a role in activism and social justice for many years in Montclair, well before the murder of George Floyd made headlines around the world, George said. Those initiatives include a student walkout in the wake of the Parkland school shootings in 2018.
“What’s needed is for us to be listened to, and not just a thank-you for what we’re doing,” George said. “Someone needs to actually listen to us, and implement what we are asking for.”
The students also reiterated that the onus of bringing about lasting change in the Montclair schools should not be put solely on the students.
More than 1,000 students from 25 Essex County schools participated in the June 19 rally.
Larose said the planning for the rally started out as simple texts between friends, who wanted to speak out amid the country's climate, and blossomed into 25 participating schools.
Education in middle and high school reinforces the notion that individual people are the sole proprietors of justice, but the truth is that it takes many people and groups of people to make a movement, the students said: “It requires all of us, it requires a team,” Larose said.
George mentioned the importance of mental health services, and the need for professional development for teachers.
She referred to bullying experienced by students of color at the school, and the harm that it did to them. “The environs are not conducive to the mental health of the students.
“People are just being hired with no care in regards to the harm that they can — and will do — to students and their parents,” George said.
George also asked that the district establish a timeline, so graduating seniors would be able to check back in to see how and if the demands were being met.
“This is our life and this is our school and this is our education,” Larose said.
Board President Latifah Jannah thanked the students for speaking. “It is a student tradition to sound the alarm to get us to listen,” she said.
She agreed that mental health is a subject that is often overlooked, especially as it relates to Black students.
“I know you’ll hold us to task so well, and I appreciate it, and I encourage you to keep doing it.”