Mount Desert Island High School students Charlie Parker, Sirohi Kumar and Alex Burnett at a recent rally in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Rallies have drawn hundreds of people to the Village Green. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the community turn out as it has,” Kumar said. “That truly warms my heart: how many people are willing to support us.” PHOTO COURTESY OF JENNIFER BOOHER

Youth racial justice organizers seek ‘quantifiable change’



BAR HARBOR—After George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, people gathered in cities and towns across the country to protest police brutality against Black people. More than a month later, protests, rallies and marches are still going on. 

In Bar Harbor, marches in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement have drawn over 375 people, according to organizers. The next march is planned for Sunday, July 5, at 5 p.m. 

One thing that makes the Bar Harbor marches unique is that they are organized by young peopleSirohi Kumar, Alex Burnett and Charlie Parker, students at Mount Desert Island High School, are the core group of organizers for the ongoing events. As well as organizing marches, they are working on change in the community and in the school system. 

“We are organizing this march for quantifiable change,” Kumar told the Islander in a recent interview. “We do have racism on a local level, and it’s important to address this.” 

Parker said about his motivation to organize the rallies and marches, “I think we all realized that this community is very caring.” A lot of people are concerned about racism, he said, but may not know what to do about it. The purpose of the rallies, he said, is to “provide a bit of education, and a first step to take action.” 

One action the students are taking is to combat racism at school, on a systemwide level. Parker and Kumar said they have both experienced racists incidents at the high school. Parker spoke publicly about the racism he has faced at one of the rallies last month, in a speech reprinted in the Islander.  

I love the school,” Kumar said. “But the school isn’t perfect, and we’re not perfect. We are working with the school, in communication with them,” Kumar continued. “We have a petition highlighting changes to make the school system a less racist place. 

The petition asks the school system to form an anti-racism task force and to change how schools handle racist incidents. Punishments for reported incidents of racism should involve education, the students said.  

“Reframe punishment around education,” Kumar explained. “It’ll help them understand why what they did was wrong.” She added that some students don’t know why their words or actions are hurtful to others. 

The petition currently has over 350 signatures, Kumar said, and additionally people have emailed the school board in support of forming the anti-racism task force. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the community turn out as it has,” Kumar said. “That truly warms my heart: how many people are willing to support us.” 

“Right now, I believe everyone’s eyes are open,” Parker said. “I’ve learned that people are willing to put their own needs aside and put their time and effort into this to support a greater cause.” 

Organizing marches and communicating with the school on making positive changes have made Parker more confident, he said. “Normally I’m scared to voice my opinion, being one of the few minorities,” Parker said. He feels the movement has helped him find his voice. 

The first march in Bar Harbor, held on May 31, was the brainchild of Burnett, the one student organizer not available for an interview. “The very first one, Alex threw together in a day,” Parker said. Without time to organize speakers, the format was “open mic.” Parker said he and Kumar came on to help, and the three have been collaborating ever since. 

“It does make me really proud that there are such young people heading the movement,” said Aura Silva, a speaker at one of the marches. While she said the community can be proud to “have been cultivating young people” unafraid to speak up, it also needs to acknowledge the problem that makes speaking up necessary. “Just awareness is a good first step;” she said, “realization that there is racism in this community.” 

Holding marches to raise awareness of racial issues “is very important in small communities and rural communities,” Silva said. “Unlike what some people think, there are people of color here.” 

“It is past time our community, which prides itself on its acceptance and progressiveness, takes a stand to fight for racial equality,” said Kumar. “We need to take action, and it should start with ourselves and this island.” 

 

Becky Pritchard
Becky Pritchard covers the town of Bar Harbor, where she lives with her family and intrepid news-dog Joe-Joe. She worked six seasons as a park ranger in Acadia, and still enjoys spending her spare time there.
Becky Pritchard

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