C3 Student Organizes Black Lives Matter Protest
Reflections on Lessons Learned from Heaven-Lee Hudson
by Pam Matusz, C3 Teacher
I am proud of our graduating eighth grader, Heaven-Lee Hudson, for organizing a BLM march in her community of Penns Grove. Heaven-Lee has been raised participating in and observing the peaceful protests organized by her father. So, when she felt the need to represent herself and her peers, it came naturally for her to organize her Youth March against police brutality.
Heaven-Lee invited me to her march. The theme of ‘action over hashtags’ was prevalent in our classroom this year. During our weekly current-events Socratic seminars, students would discuss a wide array of topics that they chose to bring to class. Therefore, I had known that Heaven-Lee had followed many protests and that her father was an organizer.
However, from the moment that she had given me the flyer that her and her cousin created for the Youth March until my drive home from the march itself, I was inspired and impressed.
After marching with Heaven-Lee I asked her more specific questions for me to exemplify for future students. Heaven-Lee felt the call to organize a youth march because she was “seeing videos of police brutality and wanted to do something about it.” It’s the call to action part, the actual organization that impressed me so much. At just 14 years old, Heaven-Lee wanted to do more than post on social media, she wanted to lead. She said that she called her dad and told him that she wanted to organize a peaceful protest, knowing that he could give her guidance.
One of the most impressive things about Heaven-Lee’s march was the presence and cooperation of the local police and government officials. The town’s police chief had his department secure the walking route and several local officers marched in solidarity. Additionally, the Mayor of Penns Grove attended and spoke at the rally before the march. This level of organizing was beyond what I had imagined from someone her age, but Heaven-Lee once again explained that her dad reached out to the local police once she decided she wanted to lead this protest.
Heaven-Lee and her cousin, who is the same age, spoke on the steps of Penns Grove Middle School and explained why they had chosen to organize the march. The parking lot was full, overflowing into the grass and the street were supporters of all colors and stations in life. The diversity was promising and the crowd was polite, inspired, and peaceful.
Heaven-Lee took the mic and began to speak in front of the crowd of about 150 marchers.
“We feel as though as young black people growing up in this type of society, we shouldn’t be scared to live our lives, to jog in our own neighborhoods, to walk with Skittles and an Arizona Tea, or even to sleep peacefully. No, our skin is not a weapon, our skin is not a threat. We are all the same and we all should be treated the same. Our black kids don’t stand a chance…if we don’t fight back now. We are outraged about how black and brown people are being treated. We are fired up and we are not going to take it anymore.”
As I looked around at the signs that kids were carrying, I was humbled. Heaven-Lee’s younger brother carried a sign that read, “Since when did me being handsome become a threat?” Others were hand-drawn pictures, not of their pets or rainbows, but stick figures of a member of the community that was lost years ago. Colored and proportioned only as an innocent child could.
I felt the need as an educator to speak to the crowd about our youth. Heaven-Lee introduced me and I simply explained just how proud I was of her, as well as her generation. That our jobs as educators is to teach and encourage our children that their voice matters and that they are capable of affecting change in the world. I wondered if at her age, or even the young elementary school age of her siblings, if I would have been so motivated or even socially aware enough to carry those signs. To me, it was an honor to walk with this community and Heaven-Lee. To listen and to witness the realities outside of my personal realm.
When the protest was over, about two hours later, I found myself almost moved to tears with a sense of love, peace and hope. Every stranger I spoke to along the way was welcoming, each police officer along the route was polite and supportive. People came out of cars, gas stations, and stores to watch what seemed like a parade of solidarity chanting for peace. Kids and their mothers watched and then began walking with us, older residents sat on steps and nodded their heads. Children peered out their front windows and families waived from front porches. Over and over people commented on how diverse the show of support had been. As a marcher, I felt like I was part of something beautiful.
Heaven-Lee may only be entering high school, but the beauty and inspiration inside of her heart created something I will never forget, and I am certain that those I met that day felt the same. Imagine; if each child or teen understood the power they held to make the world a better place. Do we allow them these opportunities? As educators, do we ask them what they think or remind them of their power often enough? Not only did Heaven-Lee bring her community together, she unknowingly made some of us in that crowd better people.
When asked what she wanted to teach other kids, Heaven-Lee responded, “If you want to do something, don’t be scared to do it, and don’t be scared to ask for help.” Though she directed this answer towards other kids her age, I like to imagine that our world could learn to be so brave and humbled as well.
Thank you, Heaven-Lee, for teaching me so much.
— Ms. Pam