More public school anti-racism demonstations are in the works, says community organizer

Dec 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm
Samantha Magdaleno is the community organizer behind a recent Royal Oak Middle School demonstration that took place following a basketball game. She, her constituents, and some students attended the game, cheered on the school's team, and once the game ended, marched onto the court chanting, "Build bridges, not walls" in English and "Sí, se puede," a Spanish phrase that translates to "Yes, we can" while waving Mexican flags.

The demonstration, which some people have called a protest, has drawn plenty of negative reactions. Parents say their children were frightened by the display. Some question whether or not the demonstration was necessary, saying surely there are better ways to get people's attention.

But, Magdaleno stands behind her decision. She says the demonstration was peaceful and a way to plant an idea into the minds of people who might otherwise be closed off to her cause.

"We wanted to do it at a basketball game in order to reach a wider audience," says Magdaleno. "We knew there would be two schools there and more parents."

It's important to note that the demonstration was peaceful. There was no violence, yet parents were quick to condemn that act as disruptive. Not all the students saw it that way though, according to Magdaleno. She says many of them came to meet her team outside following the demonstration. They held and hands took photos.
That part of the demonstration, at least, was a success. Its meaning was heard. And that meaning, Magdaleno says, is that people have nothing to fear from Mexican immigrants or brown people.

"One parents said, 'We were afraid of the unknown.' That really hits the nail on the head," says Magdaleno. "We separate ourselves into these silos and assume that everyone apart from us is to be feared."

Because of all those negative reactions, Magdaleno knows her work is far from done. And now she's working with other public schools to organize more demonstrations and events, but these ones won't catch school officials by surprise.

"We have a long list of schools we'd like to work with and we're hoping to speak with them beforehand and discuss the issues at hand," says Magdaleno.

Some of Magdaleno's detractors wish she'd do something a little more mainstream, like an educational event everyone is invited to attend, but the community organizer knows things aren't that easy.

"The people we really want to reach wouldn't show up to an event like that," she says. "My hope is by putting on these demonstrations that I can plant a small idea in their mind."