Humanity Has To Win

Kanani Park Shadle Park High School, Class of 2024

Growing up, I have been mostly exposed to white communities; I never knew much about where I come from culturally, so I had to do my own searching. The schools I went to never delved deep into African American history; classes seemed very concentrated on the White interpretation of what has happened in America. Of course, I learned about segregation, slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement, but those were just the basics. Which has been taught on repeat since elementary school. I wanted more. My darker complexion is something that I have questioned here in Spokane. Most times, Black and Brown students are one of few in their classes, if not the only, and this can cause a feeling of awkwardness, like being an outsider. The obvious differences don’t have to equal a bad thing, but the feeling of not being what feels like the common preference, is what I could not stop myself from experiencing. This pushed me to want deeper learning about the Black experience.

When 2020 came around, COVID-19 forced us into quarantine, with everything happening in the country, Black history became urgent for me to understand. When, on May 25, 2020, I saw the excruciating death of George Floyd on the news. My 14-year-old self was crushed watching that scene, and these feelings exist still to this day.

Police brutality was the wakeup call that I never wanted. I knew it could happen but until I saw it play out on national news, I had no real idea. Then I remembered being 8 years old and my step dad telling me and my 4-year-old brother to always be respectful to policemen. This was a conversation between a father and his preschool aged son, that I also absorbed in just 2nd grade. My brother tried so hard to understand this without really knowing why he had to, but I’ve always known that Black and Brown people have had a history of different treatment. I will never truly understand why though. I heard my dad’s words and it clicked; death could be right around the corner when deadly force is used to justify murder. All over the world, I watched the protests that were going on to signify justice for Floyd’s death. Seeing people being violently tossed around and detained was chilling. I have always wanted to make a difference in the dark world we live in. With Floyd pinned to the ground, I sensed something that was deeply, morally wrong. I didn’t understand everything, but I knew it was not okay. That was life being robbed from his body casually, as if it was no big deal.

On June 7, 2020, the Spokane community joined the national protest. People united downtown, objecting to police brutality. I had to be there. I remember feeling so scared, yet confident that this was the right thing to do. Marching in protest inspired me; change was needed. So, I went, and I marched. Calling out injustice was the first step. Humanity has to mean something to all of us. Standing on common ground with others, at 14-years-old, I shouted: “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE, DEFUND THE POLICE!” I saw so many signs that said things like, “SAY THEIR NAMES” or “NO FREEDOM ‘TIL WE ARE ALL EQUAL!” The more signs I read, I realized that this was bigger than I could imagine. There was a real problem in this country. The history that I craved to know more of during quarantine was being challenged right before my eyes. As everyone marched to the courthouse, I remember seeing lots of law enforcement. We continued to yell, and we continued to march. On Main Ave., right outside the Nike store, I looked to my left and saw a lineup of SWAT officers with their big SWAT trucks right behind them. We all marched towards them; my mom and I were in the front, face-to-face with them. In the background I heard Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” playing loudly from a speaker. As the beat dropped, the SWAT team threw tear gas. I have never feared for my life more. And this became a moment of clarity; power can harm.

Fast forward to October 7, 2023, when Israeli forces began to air strike Hamas and Palestinian civilians. This 75-plus year conflict that has now created a new version of genocide. There has been an estimate of about 34,000 Palestinian citizens, particularly women and children maimed and slaughtered. Bodies scattered in the streets. Everyday people just trying to live are being sacrificed in relentless bombings. It’s devastating to know that this is happening in the world without action or efforts to stop it and that opposition to it is being censored. This is not about politics, this is about human rights. The same sinister feeling I experienced watching George Floyd die is retriggered every time I see Gaza in the news. Knowing that there is torment and despair happening daily, I am overcome by feelings of sadness and guilt for having a life that the murdered will never have the chance to live. I have feelings of extreme gratitude for my life but also extreme sorrow for those that have been and continue to be lost.

I know I was put on this earth to make a difference, and I want to use my voice to raise awareness. When I walk across the graduation stage on June 8th, with the Class of 2024, I want it to be known that I am walking for the students who lost their chance to prosper because of the genocide that is happening at this very moment, as I write this refection. THEIR LIVES MATTER. None of us are free until all of us are free. Humanity has to win.