What YOUth Can Do organizes rally
July 15, 2020
Over 200 students, parents, teachers, and community members gathered at Central on July 11 to demand that OPS cancel its contract with the Omaha police department, focus on prevention instead of reaction for school safety, diversify upper level classes, have more mental health resources for students and have Black history emphasized in the curriculum.
The rally was organized by What Youth Can Do, an organization made up of several current and former OPS students. It began with the organizers giving speeches about each demand. “It is and will continue to be exhausting to be a Black student in honors and advanced placement classes,” What Youth Can Do member and South High graduate Jadriane Saunders said in his speech. “If we do not acknowledge and proactively address the huge gap in representation between minority students and white students.
The speakers emphasized the importance of counseling and mental health services for students. In Nebraska, the ratio of school counselors to students is 347:1. The recommended ratio is 250:1. Counselors increase school safety by providing school and emotional support to students. More counseling and mental health services for students is also part of the demand for prevention instead of reaction.
After the speeches, participants lined up on the sidewalk facing Dodge street carrying signs. Some were homemade, such as Burke sophomore Montaija Williford’s which read: “5 times more likely to get suspended than my white counterparts. My school’s name is linked to a racist Harry A. Burke.” Signs were also handed out at the rally. These had messages including: “BIPOC Students Matter,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No Cops In Schools,” and “Black History Matters.” Chants of “Black lives matter,” “We the youth are the change” and “Defund OPD, fund our schools” filled the area outside Central as cars, motorcycles and an ice cream truck drove by and honked in support.
The rally ended early and peacefully. What Youth Can Do spoke at the July 13 school board meeting, and presented their demands and the data they collected from a survey.
“We demand that OPS understands Black lives matter,” said Central graduate Simret Habte in her speech. “Not only when we’re killed, but when we are alive and learning in our schools.”