With a megaphone and brightly colored signs in hand, and a parade of honking cars following along, Breanna Collazo, 11, marched around her South Bronx block on Friday shouting “Black Lives Matter!”
Like many Americans, Breanna has been watching the passionate demonstrations against racism and police violence on the news and wanting to do something. The encouragement of her teachers at P.S. 72 in Manhattan, where Breanna is in fifth grade, inspired her to plan her own protest.
On Friday, about 20 of her friends, family, and teachers joined her march, while about 40 of her classmates watched and offered their support on a livestream.
“When adults try to do this, the government doesn’t listen to them. So I feel like it’s time for the kids to speak up,” Breanna said.
The idea came from a class assignment. Since school buildings shut down and shifted to remote learning, drama teacher Fernando Alvarez has been asking his students to submit videos of themselves talking. His goal all year has been to help students find their own voices, he said. The assignments started out light-hearted, asking students to answer prompts like “would you rather?” and “two truths and a lie.”
Then the death of George Floyd after a white police officer kneeled on his neck prompted nationwide protests, and Alvarez asked his students to simply talk about what they were feeling.
“I said, ‘Hey, look, there’s a lot going on and I can’t imagine being your age. Do you have any thoughts?’” Alvarez said.
The video Breanna submitted was about racism.
“You can see the moment when she’s like, ‘And you know what? That’s why, this week, I’m going to make a protest. I’m going to invite all my friends, all my family,’” Alvarez said.
Her idea for a demonstration came together during class discussions with another P.S. 72 teacher, Jeff Zohn, who set aside time for his homeroom students to process all that they were hearing and seeing around them.
On Friday, both Alvarez and Zohn were there, along with other teachers from her school, waving signs that Breanna had drawn. They had messages such as “We’re all humans,” and “End racism.”
With a gaggle of adults looking on and surrounded by her cousins, Breanna became emotional while talking about police violence and racism.
“I’m not doing this just because I feel like I have to. I’m doing this because I’m scared,” she said. “My question is: Why can’t we all be equal? It hurts to know that there’s still no answer.”
Breanna’s mom, Leslie Collazo, said her daughter has been deeply affected by the death of Floyd and other black people killed by police. She began researching online the names of people who have died and asked her parents to take her to a protest.
“It’s been hard for her to express herself. Ever since this started happening, she started seeing all these things on TV, it affected her. The first thing she wanted to do is make signs,” Collazo said.
But after leading her family and friends in the demonstration, Breanna said she was feeling “so relieved.”
“All those feelings inside of me, they got let go,” she said. “I didn’t keep them bottled up,”
Some neighbors who came to the march after seeing an invitation Breanna had posted on her fence asked if she wanted to take to the streets with them again next weekend. They asked her to join other children and march to Gracie Mansion, the New York mayor’s official residence, after hearing what Breanna had to say.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, these people think I have a powerful voice.’ Nobody has ever told me that,” she said.