The police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, have spurred protests globally and left Minnesotan teens of color stressed out and struggling. But the support from their community has renewed their hope for change.
“The exhaustion comes from when everyone wants to now understand and puts the effort on the people of color, the minorities to answer the questions when they aren’t ever black and white answers,” said Naeem Williams, 20, of Hugo, Minn..
Williams was no stranger to the constant questioning from white people. As a black, gay man in a white suburb at a predominantly white high school, Williams found himself answering the difficult questions.
“Absolutely, I was put in the position of being a spokesperson for minorities when I was in school,” said Williams.
But this summer, Williams was not alone in his fight for justice.
He described sitting among masses of protestors in front of Minnesota’s capitol building in St. Paul.
“Even in this pool of people you do not know, you see people that you do know,” he said.
“It’s the feeling that you’re not alone and you were never alone, no matter who is out there protesting, what matters is that people are out there and people are making their voices heard.”
But some teens are not hopeful.
“You can’t stop racism, it’s going to happen forever,” said Anjali Gutterud, 19, of Stillwater, Minn.
Gutterud also faced discrimination at her school. As an adopted, biracial girl with white parents, she often found herself straddling the lines between being white or black.
“I’m fighting for black lives matter, but I’m just not black enough because [I’m] too black for the white community, too white for the black community,” said Gutterud.
This lack of community did not stop Gutterud from protesting for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Instead, Gutterud draws her motivation from outside forces,
“[I march] to show my younger nieces how to stand up, in the right way, for what they believe in,” she said. “Also, being a music teacher, I want my students to see the right way of being progressive. Most of my motivation is external but it does make me feel better knowing I’m not just sitting around watching the world burn.”
Meyri Ibrahim, 18, of Eagan, Minn. was at the protest on the I-35W bridge when truck driver, Bogdan Vechirko, ran his semi through the swarms of people.
“It was so scary,” Ibrahim said. “Before the semi truck came, it was a peaceful protest. We walked on 35W and sat there as speakers spoke. Jacob Frey, Mayor of Minneapolis was about to come speak, and, all of a sudden, people are screaming and running. I didn’t realize what was happening…I fell as people were running but got up and moved to the median.”
No one was injured during the incident and this scare did not weaken Ibrahim’s resilience. She is hopeful that things will get better. A recent visit to George Floyd Memorial lifted her spirits, she said.
“It was a sign that so many people in my community cared about lives like mine,” said Ibrahim. “I never want to lose hope that things can get better. So many people have used this summer as a way to grow and reflect on how they have experienced privilege. It’s sad that the death of another Black man is what it took, but I think people are really willing to listen.”