‘Is one of us next?’: Local Montessori school holds march against police violence
Students at Elm City Montessori School read speeches, sang songs and marched against police violence in the Westville neighborhood on April 22.
Natalie Kainz, Contributing Photographer
Fourth grader Angaliez Colon wants the police to stop targeting Black people. Fifth grader Jada Tucker wants people to recognize that Black people are brave — not harmful or dangerous. They may be too young to vote, but they are not too young to be heard.
Last Thursday, students like Colon and Tucker at Elm City Montessori School led a protest against police violence in the Westville neighborhood of New Haven. More than 40 students from fourth to sixth grade, in addition to other New Haveners, gathered at the intersection of Whalley and West Rock Avenues to march through the streets, sing songs and read speeches. The protest was organized by teachers at ECMS in response to the fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot in Brooklyn Center in early April, while the school was on Spring break.
“I hear the chants of passionate protestors in the streets, I see the news: Black and brown citizens being brutally murdered by police,” said 11-year-old Aurora Irizarry Cardone. “I am here today to defund the police.”
Irizarry Cardone was one of more than 10 students who took up the microphone to read poetry and speeches about police brutality when the march came to a halt at the intersection in front of Edgewood Park. The students, several of whom were fighting back tears, spoke to a crowd of peers, parents and even some grandparents. When they finished, teachers and parents embraced them.
According to the New Haven Independent, the youth protest was inspired by the Children’s Crusade of 1963, when students in Birmingham, Alabama skipped classes to march against segregation.
Over the past few months, the school’s anti-bias and anti-racism director, Amelia Allen Sherwood, has introduced books to the students that navigate the topics of race and gender. During the protest, Allen Sherwood led the students as they sang the refrain: “This is what community looks like here, right here.”
Beginning at 1 p.m., participants walked down Whalley Avenue, chanting to the beat of a drum. Some students held signs that read: “Drop the guns,” “Color is not a crime” and “Is one of us next?”
Kerry Brown said that she is proud of her three children, all of whom go to ECMS, for attending the protest. Brown, who is white, said that the school’s staff have helped her have conversations about race with her family.
“It has brought us to a place where we can have these really important conversations that can be uncomfortable and difficult but are so necessary,” Brown said. “I want my kids to see that they count — that they can shut things down for a little while to get their message heard.”
Two of Brown’s children, 11-year-old twin brothers Nate and Theo Brown, told the News that they have attended many Black Lives Matter protests with their mother. Nate Brown said that he hopes that protesting will help stop the “reckless acts” of police brutality that most often affect Black people.
Their grandparents, Joan and George Morrison of New Haven, also showed up to support the protest. The couple held a sign which read “Grandparents for justice.”
“I’m learning new [anti-bias and anti-racism] concepts in my 60s that I knew nothing about,” Joan Morrison told the News. “I’m glad they’re getting a head start on all this.”
Members of Black Lives Matter New Haven also attended the protest to show their support. Local protest organizer Kerry Ellington read out the names of Black people killed by police in Connecticut, including 15-year-old Jayson Negron, 19-year-old Mubarak Soulemane and 21-year-old Malik Jones.
“You are going to change this world,” Black Lives Matter New Haven co-founder Ala Ochumare said in a speech to the students. “I’m going to make sure I do whatever I gotta do so that when you’re ready to take over, you’re going to hit the ground running.”
In her speech, Ochumare said she formed bonds with many of the students and their parents while visiting ECMS classrooms. She praised the students for their bravery and called them the “dopest” people she has ever met.
After the protest, students walked back to ECMS where school buses and hot apple cider were waiting for them.
Correction, Apr. 26: An earlier versions of this story said Colon was a first grader and, later, a fifth grader. In fact, Colon is a fourth grader. The story has been updated.