Venice High students lead peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter

Story by Kymia Freeman | Photos by Carmen Perez

“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

This chant, among others, was a highlight of a two-hour peaceful protest held at Venice High School on Tuesday, June 9.

Organized via Instagram by organizers and graduating Venice High School seniors Cailee Grayhorse-Pupecki and Mya Edwards, members of this year’s graduating class wanted to tip their graduation caps off to the memory of George Floyd — the unarmed black man who was killed in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day — and use their graduation as a platform for change.

“Organizing this was out of necessity,” Grayhorse-Pupecki said. “I really hope that some change, some real change, comes out of this. [The situation] is not fair.”

At the protest, both organizers gave impassioned speeches that wowed the crowd of 50 or so students, parents, community organizers and teachers.

In part of her speech, Grayhorse-Pupecki addressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected Venice students’ activism, saying that, “[Venice students] may not have been able to walk the stage this year, but we have an oasis of time [to fight for justice]. We stand here for those who did not get to graduate.”

Grayhorse-Pupecki also stressed the importance of equality in all sectors that have historically oppressed black and brown people, especially in education.

Grayhorse-Pupecki, who herself is a mix of Native American, Black, Irish, German, and Italian, also highlighted how Venice High School is a model for the diversity and acceptance that should be observed around the nation.

“We are an amazing melting pot,” Grayhorse-Pupecki said. “We stand for unity, friendship, and loyalty. We are so lucky to be at a school that’s so mixed up. One love, one heart, we’re all in this together; let’s push forward right here.”

Edwards, the protest’s other organizer and leader of Venice High’s chapter of LA-based grassroots organization Students Deserve, gave an equally moving speech about the importance of changing policing as we know it today. She called for the defunding of the police, especially LAUSD school police, which according to a report by the UCLA-based Million Dollar Hoods Project is home to the largest school police force in the nation.

In place of the $70 million the school police department receives in funding from LAUSD, Edwards hopes that this money is instead allocated to in-person support services such as college and mental health counselors and nurses, among others. Edwards and other members of Students Deserve, which lobbies for progressive social change within LA Unified schools, have created a survey (bit.ly/defundlausdpolicesurvey) for LAUSD students to express their opinions on defunding of the school police force.

In the Venice community, there have been a variety of demonstrations tied to Floyd’s death, but the one at Venice High School was entirely student-led and organized. The community responded positively to the peaceful protest. Passing cars honked in approval as music, megaphones, popsicles and hugs made up the colorful scene of student-led activism.

This story is a collaboration between The Argonaut and The Oarsmen, the student newspaper of Venice High School. A version of this story originally appeared at veniceoarsman.com.

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