Oregon’s Youth Press for Racial Justice

The work is not over until every child in Oregon knows that they belong.

Alejandra Lopez chants 'Black Lives Matter' at a protest in Warrenton. Photo by Hailey Hoffman/The Astorian.
Alejandra Lopez chants 'Black Lives Matter' at a protest in Warrenton. Photo by Hailey Hoffman/The Astorian.

“I’m always just a fighter, a born fighter. I like doing what is right.”

This is how Alejandra Lopez, age 16, described herself to The Astorian last Tuesday. “I think also because I’m a person of color, it kind of is like the starting point of a whole change in society,” said the Warrenton High School student (pictured above) who has taken the lead organizing Black Lives Matter protests in Astoria and Warrenton. “This is not just a trend that you can follow on Instagram—this is a movement. This isn’t a thing that you can just pay attention to and then forget about the next day. This is a thing that is going to change the world.”

One day later, speaking to a crowd of hundreds at a protest in Ontario, an aspiring educator of color recalled a time he was racially profiled by a police officer during a traffic stop. “I’m not going to say his name, but I’ll never forget his name,” he said of the officer. “As long as I’m a teacher, I’ll teach your kids peace, love, and equality.”

And this afternoon, REAP Inc., Bridge, and Africa House are launching a two-day virtual youth town hall for Black students across Oregon. This space invites students to share their stories about the impacts of racism and their visions for systemic change in our schools and our state. 

These voices are a clarion call for racial justice. Young people are the new vanguard, echoing the undying refrain of generations before them in a centuries-old struggle against colonialism, systemic racism, white supremacy, and oppression. They give us hope, and they are holding us all to account.

The movement is already pressing school districts in Salem, in Bend, in Portland, and across the metro area to prioritize children of color and center racial equity in their policies, curriculum, budgeting, and decision-making. From Eugene to La Grande, institutions of higher education are (yet again) reexamining their monuments to white supremacists and anti-immigrant eugenicists. And as schools prepare to reopen this fall, Governor Brown and the Oregon Department of Education have affirmed that a healthy learning environment for children includes “creat[ing] learning opportunities that address white privilege and the dismantling of white supremacy.”

Will Oregon follow through? Meaningful change only happens when we work in true partnership with young people, families, and community, and when we move as one to remedy the historical and emerging injustices facing our children.

We means all of us: our Governor and legislators; state agency directors and educators; school administrators and school board members; policymakers, philanthropy, and community-based organizations; professional associations and education advocates. Here at FBO/Chalkboard Project, we are committed to pursuing racial justice unequivocally, working collaboratively, and ensuring community voices guide the way.

“I always struggled trying to make friends without sacrificing who I am as a person,” said Savannah Manning, a St. Helens High School graduate who identifies as Black and Indigenous, in today’s Oregonian. She received her high school diploma on the steps of the Columbia County Courthouse—and just days later, stood on the same steps to tell her story at a Black Lives Matter march. “We need to come together as a community to help educate all generations on racial and social equality,” said Manning, age 18, to a crowd of 500. “We need to come together as a community and talk about our experiences.” 

The work is not over until every child in Oregon knows that they belong. It’s long past time to see this work through.