VoK: KHS student-led walkout

Hannah Cohen, Fitz Cain, and Richard Pfeifer

More than 110 KHS students, under threat of an unexcused absence, walked from the Senior Hall down to the Lyons Memorial Stadium in unity at 7:40 a.m. Monday, Sept. 18.
Though they varied in appearance, they were all inspired by the memory of the victims of racial violence both nationally and in their community. Due to the new attendance policy, accumulated unexcused absences could result automatic drop from the class. Although faced with the consequences students persisted.

Kayla Cohen 

“I participated in the walkout because I feel like it’s something that needs to be addressed by Kirkwood,” Kayla Cohen, senior, said. “I feel like black people in this school are out of place. There clearly is diversity in this school, but I was protesting to bring awareness to those who don’t understand. I felt really good [with the turnout]. It was a new step. I thought there was only going to be about 20 people there and that they would all be black, but seeing the mixture of races really warmed my heart.”

Alesa Edward

Alesa Edward, freshman: “There was [a diverse crowd] that came out to support so I know that people in this school have voices that are very much unheard. I am so glad and thankful for everyone that came and supported. [Devon Cotton (KHS student that died over the summer)] was my cousin, and that opened up my eyes. People who have died, their voices are unheard. Today we came together, and we are letting their voices be heard.” Courtney Terry, sophomore: “We are all here together. We came as a group. We left as a group. Everybody who was not out here today that would have liked to: their voices were heard. Because everybody out here was supportive. They came, they showed that they see this and understand what is happening around here in our community.” Edward: “We did this. It was peaceful. It hurts to see that teachers feel like we should have an absence because we are standing up for what we believe in.” Terry: “People say that everybody’s voices are being heard, but they’re not.” Edward: “I want to see change. I want to see everybody at this school get equal rights.”

Rowan Burba 

“I participated because in my opinion it is more important to show that the lives of our students have more value than attendance and this is a very important and local issue that continues to happen that people are not learning from and this was a good way to make a local difference,” Rowan Burba, freshman, said. “I was very disappointed with the verdict and I am hoping we can change our government and the system so that cops cannot keep getting away with murdering African American men on a racial bias that they claim not to have but obviously do. I have a different perspective because this doesn’t affect me directly because I have white privilege but I want to do everything that I can as an ally so that African Americans can achieve equal rights.”

Daneen Burks

“You see today, they thought this was going to be a bad protest, that it was going to be really violent, stuff like that,” Daneen Burks, sophomore, said. “It was a peaceful protest, and that’s what we’re about. I really love that we can come together, and we don’t have to fight, and we don’t have to argue and we don’t have to go through all of that. We can just be happy with one another.”

Mike Havener

“The students have done a wonderful job,” Dr. Mike Havener, KHS principal, said. “They’ve been very organized and very to the point. They’ve been able to express their opinions and minds, and it’s been more than one. It’s not just one person talking. I didn’t count, but it’s been multiple people. I don’t know about changing my mind, [but] I’m proud of what they’ve done.”

Hannah Swinson

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Hannah Swinson, freshman, said. “I wasn’t expecting myself to be crying this much. You don’t really have anyone to talk to at this school except for other black peers. You really don’t know what they’re feeling either. I was angry [after Friday’s verdict], so angry that my mom had to pull me out of class. All of these things keep happening and nobody seems to say anything about.[Dr. Havener] has not done enough, he hasn’t really done anything. They say they can’t do anything but they can do everything in their power to kick us out of school. I want to say [to Dr. Havener] that the moves you’re making are not smart. If we don’t get justice there will not be peace. There’s something you might not understand, because you’re not part of our race. He couldn’t even stand in front of us and look us in the eyes, so how are things going to change? He couldn’t stand in front of us and say ‘guys I feel for you.’ He couldn’t say anything. If you couldn’t be there then you really missed out.”

Kelly Schnider

“I think it’s important as a teacher to see as many sides of my students as possible,” Kelly Schnider, KHS drama teacher, said. “Some of my students are actually the leaders of this protest and I can only be a better teacher if I better understand my students. I came out here to show them the support that they need in a tough time. I had my planning period and I chose to come out here, it wasn’t like I ditched class. I think it’s good for students to see that there are teachers that are listening. I totally understand [the teachers that didn’t come out] and I am in no way judging them. The kids here seeing me today made a difference.”

Bismah Syed

“I always hear people, especially here, saying ‘Why does Black Lives Matter exist?’,” Bismah Syed, sophomore, said. “Because they always say ‘all lives matter.’ Well, if all lives matter, that’s why black lives matter exists.”

Olivia Griner

“People who say ‘all lives matter’ have never been in a black person’s shoes,” Olivia Griner, sophomore said. “I haven’t. I can’t speak for them. But I would say going there was important, especially being white and showing black people aren’t alone.”

Aly Terry

“Although a lot of people may not think that this did anything, that us coming out here and sitting down and talking didn’t do much, it did,” Aly Terry, junior, said. “Because it started conversation. And it didn’t just start conversation between black people. It started conversation between everybody, which is so important. It got people’s attention. It showed that we did not care if we got an unexcused absence if we were out here sharing our message. That’s what it accomplished. A lot of people feel like they can’t share their black problems with white counselors because they’ve never had to go through that. You can hear us all you want. You can hear black kids running up and down the hallways saying ‘black lives matter’ but it don’t matter until you start caring about it. By the time I graduate next year, by the end of the year, I do not want to feel the same way that I felt on Friday. Ever.”

Kiden Smith

“I’m a black kid,” Kiden Smith, sophomore, said. “I go to a predominantly white school. Sometimes I feel as if I don’t belong at the school, so it’s good to see that we are here and we aren’t going to step down. My mom is very active, and seeing that she’s in the clergy it is interesting to see her perspective. She’s an activist. I was in Ferguson [with her] a lot and that played into my decision [to walk out]. I do see big parallels between this and Ferguson. The only difference is that people could find a way to debate over Ferguson. People could find a reason to say that [Michael Brown] deserved it. With this, there is video evidence, nobody could say that he deserved to die. I’m offended that it’s an unexcused [absence]. It shows that you don’t care about some of your students. You have black students. This could be anyone of us. By saying our lives are an unexcused absence, I would say it’s disrespectful. The best way to stop this from happening is to educate. Use whatever privilege you have to fix things.”

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