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Fifteen: Miami Valley Teenagers Reflect On Their First Protest

Ja' Nya Lewis and Joe Freeman
courtesy of Ja' Nya Lewis and Joe Freeman
Ja' Nya Lewis and Joe Freeman

If you've been watching media coverage of the nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, you may have noticed a lot of young people on the frontlines. Dayton Youth Radio project manager Basim Blunt had a phone conversation with Ja' Nya Lewis and Joe Freeman, two local teenagers were protesting Dayton. 

Transcript:

Joe Freeman (JF): My name is Joe Freeman. I go to Yellow Springs High School. I'm 15 and I'm white.

Ja' Nya Lewis (JL): My name is Ja' Nya Lewis. I am 15 years old. I attend Stivers School for the Arts, and I am African-American.

Basim Blunt (BB): I guess my first question, and I'll send this to you Ja' Nya, why would a teenager...why did you want to be a part of the protest?

JL: I wanted to be a part of the protest personally because it's a part of who I am. I think it's very important to be a part of something contributing to our community and to my people. And I thought it was awesome to be there.

BB: Joe, why did you decide to go?

JF: I wanted to go to the protest because, like, the Black Lives Matter movement, it's a really important thing that we need to talk about. Just like seeing the death of George Floyd, it was just, like, awful. And like, I have the privilege to be less likely to get arrested for protesting. And I wanted to do what I could to help my Black peers.

BB: Ja' Nya, tell us what you saw in the first person experience on Saturday.

JL: I would describe it as empowering, and for the first part, peaceful. It was very touching to listen to the people that were speaking, people from everywhere contributing, African-Americans and Caucasians.

BB: And Joe, let's talk about what you saw at the Dayton protest on Sunday.

JF: When we were all in a park, peacefully protesting, and no one was seeing violence, like at all. And a whole bunch of police, like 20 or 30 came up on bikes. And they kind of like surrounded and like sat there and watched that protest - like they were looking for us to throw stuff at them or be like rioters. But we all, like, took a knee and then they just like drove away. And also they had a helicopter that was just kind of like circling around us the whole time is really strange.

JL: I didn't agree with the police actions. It was peaceful and there was no violence whatsoever.

BB: Joe, you said that you weren't that nervous because, you know, you're white and you felt like safer from police. Ja' Nya, were you nervous that the police might act out or put you in harm's way in any way?

JL: Yes. At 8:25, I remember [because] I looked at my phone, it was a SWAT team and they started to teargass us. My friend and her mom, they had got like really bad tear gas. And the snipers was up on the building, and I was scared that they were going to shoot like rubber bullets or something. So I ran around the corner, and I lost my friend. It was scary because I was the only person by myself. It was so much anxiety and nervousness of putting myself out there because I've been seeing so many videos of so many Black people getting hurt.

JF: If people are like just sitting around and watching all of this stuff that's going on and aren't having any sort of reaction, then that's a problem in itself, especially white people, like white violence is compliance.

JL: I also definitely agree with Joe about how white people can use their privilege. And we definitely appreciate that, the white people that do come out there to help and speak for us is very much appreciated.

BB: Thank you so much, guys. I really appreciate both of you on behalf of my generation that marched. Now, I'm not that old. I didn't watch Martin Luther King and all that stuff, but I did march when I was in college to free Nelson Mandela and to stop apartheid in South Africa. Is there something that you want to happen before we go - like how would you know that our protests meant something?

JF: We need like a complete reform of the police system because it's built on racism, and it was built on slavery. And we can't have the, quote-unquote, protectors of our country being like a systematically racist profession.

JL: The system was never broken, it was built this way. Once we as a country see that the system has changed, that's when I might find pleasure in my life.  We want equality, not revenge. That's when I would be satisfied. 

Ja' Nya Lewis attends Stivers School of the Arts in Dayton, and Joe Freeman, is a student at Yellow Springs High School.  Additional production from Malcolm Mandela Blunt, also fifteen years old. Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation, the Vectren Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.
 
This story was created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.