Athletics Director and Crossroads parent Ira Smith reflects on the experience.
June 9, 2020 at approximately 1 p.m. is a moment in time that I will never forget. I was at Veterans Memorial Park in Culver City, flanked by my sons, junior Myles and eighth grader Noah. We approached a crowd of people, some faces we recognized despite the masks, and many that we didn’t. Nevertheless, we were joining a group of folks that were congregating for one cause: a cause that has grown since the senseless deaths of so many Black Americans, most recently, George Floyd.
During the aftermath of these deaths due to police brutality, we have witnessed protests in our country and across the world. Some were violent but most have been peaceful, especially in the past week. As a Black man with Black children, I recognize that educating them through this has been painful at times but necessary all of the time. Understanding that assembling peacefully is a First Amendment right, my wife, Janell, and I know that it is important to have our sons engage in this moment in any way possible. Given the violent nature of some of the protests, we were happy when a peaceful one presented itself. When we learned of a student protest being co-organized by junior Nora Cazenave and senior Alana Cotwright—along with peers from Culver City High School—we jumped at the opportunity to support them and the cause.
"Right now a lot of people, including myself, really want to get involved with the Black Lives Matter movement as much as possible, and having a rally or protest is a really excellent way to mobilize a large group of people into action,” says Nora. “We were also excited about having a student-led protest with student speakers, because a lot of people our age are really angry right now, and have a lot to say.”
The protest started with testimonies from students including Nora, junior Beza Lulseged and senior Kai McAliley, who expressed their messages through pain, anger, frustration and, most importantly, hope! Every young person who took the microphone had their story to tell and heartfelt messages to convey. Emotionally moved by every message and story, I found myself fighting back tears, then letting them flow while beaming with pride and admiration for our young people. Moreover, as a member of the Crossroads community, I found myself in awe of Nora, Beza and Kai. The poise and strength they possessed while perfectly executing their messages was inspiring. I know we reside in a special community, and it was on full display at the protest. There were many Crossroads students and a handful of employees in attendance, which made the event feel more special.
After the speeches, the march proceeded through the streets of Culver City with a carefully planned route directly to the Culver City Police Department. With approximately 1,000 participants, we marched and chanted as one throughout the streets and main intersections of Culver City. Along the way, Alana seized the moment and led us in chants. Residents stood on their porches and front lawns with signs, some banged on pans from their kitchen, many filmed the moment and motorists honked their horns in support of the cause. Over an hour later, filled with energy, passion and purpose, we arrived at the Culver City Police Department. Once again, Alana led the way with her emotionally charged chants while members of the police department filmed from their phones from the roof of the building. It felt that they were in support of the cause, as well.
“This protest is probably one of my proudest moments, alongside my admittance to college,” says Alana. “Seeing that many people come together was inspiring, and ignited a part of myself and my megaphone abilities that I had no idea existed.”
Then came the moment of the day. Approximately 1,000 protesters took a knee and honored George Floyd and all others who fell victim to senseless murders at the hands of the police. A moment of silence commenced and lasted for eight minutes and 46 seconds. With about a minute remaining, we heard a drumbeat that seemed to correlate with George Floyd’s final moments of life.
The trip back to Veterans Memorial Park was equally energetic. As we returned, my son Noah realized that he would never forget the day. On June 9, 2020, as George Floyd was laid to rest, Noah participated in a peaceful protest and graduated from eighth grade at Crossroads School.
Upon further reflection, I am so happy that I shared this moment with my sons. It was memorable for us all. Additionally, I am so proud of Nora, Beza, Kai and Alana. Given the emotions of the moment, they represented themselves with poise, grace and dignity. They are our future; therefore, I am hopeful!