RIVERDALE — The offenses, slights and racism can come in varied form.
Nevaeh Parker, who’ll be a 10th grader at Roy High School, cited the backhanded compliments she’s received over the years — that, for a Black person, she’s nice or pretty.
“Implying that Black people aren’t pretty or Black people aren’t nice,” she said.
Khia Lee, a Bonneville High School student, described a much more blunt experience. At school one day when she was younger, a group of boys followed her around, calling her the n-word. She told the principal, but that didn’t yield results. So she just kept quiet, let it simmer inside.
“I just didn’t want to confront them and get hit,” she said.
D.J. Mayes’ bad experience came at the hands of a teacher. “When I was in 7th grade, a substitute said I looked like a monkey and that really offended me,” he said.
Adults aren’t the only ones who experience racism — it affects African Americans and other people of color of all ages. On Wednesday evening, a contingent of children and teens came together at Riverdale Park in Riverdale to discuss their experiences with racism and prejudice, invited by Northern Utah Black Lives Matter. There were no explicit calls or demands, though many spoke of the need for change and action to fight racism. Rather, the event served to give younger African Americans a platform to speak out.
“We’re not heard as much as other people,” said Lee, who helped organize and emcee the event, along with Parker. “We don’t want to be heard more. We want to be heard equally.”
The event was also meant to let others, white people, know what people of color face. The event drew around 250 people.
“We’re not doing it for sympathy. We just want you to know what we go through,” said Jacarri Kelley, the leader of Northern Utah Black Lives Matter.
Lee spoke of being followed around in stores by suspicious store clerks. She also spoke of the self-hatred that people of color can feel in a society dominated by white people, though she’s come to embrace her skin tone.
“All four of my girls have felt that way, and it kills me,” said her dad, Lemoyne Lee.
Lillyan Booker of Ogden, who’s biracial, spoke of the awkwardness of visiting the white side of her family without her dad, who’s black, or her brother, biracial like her.
Elijah Stephens, a Bonneville High student, cringed at the memory of one acquaintance calling him “the whitest Black person I ever met.”
‘DO WHAT’S RIGHT’
Wednesday’s event comes as people of color and others increasingly speak out against racism, here and around the country, in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. Floyd, who was Black, died after the white officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
“I was so devastated from what happened and I was so angry,” said Parker.
But while Black Lives Matter Northern Utah has helped organize three rallies, spurred by Floyd’s death, to denounce racism and push for change in Ogden Police Department policies relative to race, there were no overt political calls at the Riverdale Park event. Likewise, Lee expressed chagrin at the impression some get that Black Lives Matter is about violence.
“We don’t want to cause violence or anything. We just want equality,” she said.
Indeed, the most pronounced calls were for people to speak out and denounce racism when they see it.
“That’s where it starts. You have to stand up and do what’s right,” Parker said.
Likewise, Tre Waddoups of Salt Lake City said posting on social media isn’t enough in fighting racism.
“You have to take the next step to make sure that change happens,” he said.