Student protest: Powerful, peaceful
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Hundreds march in a student-organized protest Friday. Participants were inspired during the peaceful walk. The group marched from Adams Elementary School to Lion’s Town and Country Park.
Community of Madera marches in solidarity
On Friday, Madera joined the large number of American cities holding demonstrations across the nation protesting the brutal death in Minneapolis of George Floyd and supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
What was remarkable about the local march, however, was the fact that it sprang from the brain of a single high school senior; it was totally student organized, and it was entirely peaceful, from start to finish.
The idea came from Madera South High School graduating senior, Mary Idowu and then bounced from her to her colleagues in the Black Students Union and the N.A.A.C.P. to MUSD officials to community leaders, and finally to the community itself. By Friday, the students and their supporters were ready.
They left the staging area at John Adams School and marched down National Ave., up Schnoor St. to Howard Ave. and on to Lions Town and Country Park. There, joined by 400 community supporters, speaker after speaker stepped to the microphone to tell how the cause of the students had touched their hearts.
The mood at the beginning at John Adams was almost festive. Well-known DJ Kay Rich kept the music going and the crowd together with reminders that everybody was there to protest peacefully. He also watched out for the safety of the crowd, insisting that everybody carry water bottles.
At John Adams, Idowu welcomed the crowd and introduced Pastor Sam Neely who gave an opening prayer. She then introduced MSHS Junior Class President Jeremiah Goodman; Myles Tyson, NAACP Youth Council; Kirk Sheriff from the U.S. Department of Justice; and NAACP President Gloria Brown. Then it was Idowu’s turn again, and after lifting the crowd of about 200 to a new high of enthusiasm for their cause, she called for the march to begin.
By the time the protestors reached Lion’s Town and Country Park, the crowd had grown to 400. With elders sitting under a tent and the rest standing in front of the stage, Idowu took to the microphone again, welcoming everyone to the park and to the remainder of the event.
Signs proliferated, many calling for an end to brutality against Blacks, and others expressing the maxim, “Black Lives Matter.” Speeches and poems by students followed, including those by Leanne McCoy, Janelle McAlister, Trinity Martinez, Jocelyn Avila, Nataria Price, and Liliana Hurtado. They each revealed a part of the hurt, the anger, and the determination that had brought them out to protest.
Madera’s leaders had a message: Community leaders also spoke. They included Chief of Police Dino Lawson, who said, “It (the march) was an outstanding expression of the Constitution. We must recognize that this event was planned and implemented by our young people. The march was peaceful and their message was heard. Madera youth and the community members sent a message for the whole nation to follow!”
Also speaking were Councilman Donald Holley, MUSD Superintendent Todd Lile, Director of Communications Babatunde Illori, Emma Illori, Professor of Cultural Intelligence at Fresno Pacific University, and Mayor Andy Medellin, who said, “I was proud to witness and take part in an event where our community came together peacefully to bring awareness to racism and police brutality. I denounce these actions; they are unacceptable and intolerable.
“When a community comes together in peace and prayer, you have a strong community! Madera is unique and sets the standard with community involvement by our law enforcement and local leadership. It is vital we continue to keep an open dialogue, and the lines of communication must always be available to all.”
Supervisor Brett Frazier, not only spoke but knelt as well. After delivering his remarks to the audience, Frazier knelt on one knee in front of the students to ask forgiveness for his own failures in matters of racial equality.
The most powerful speaker of the day, however, was Idowu, a native of Nigeria and an MSHS student for three years. In a ringing denunciation of racism, which included her own experiences of discrimination, she demanded victory in the struggle for racial equality.
Genesis of the idea: Madera probably would not have had a student-organized and student-led protest movement Friday if Mary Idowu had never left her native Nigeria and eventually moved to Madera three years ago. She was so stunned by the horrific killing of George Floyd that she knew she would have to voice her outrage.
She thought about it for three days and began by starting a group-chat on Instagram. Then she contacted her peers in both the Black Students Union and the NAACP to get them aboard. Their initial discussions led them to decide to begin at Walmart and march to the Courthouse (that was changed). They began to plan posters and flyers while Idowu emailed Illori at midnight. When he read her email, he telephoned a quick reply.
At first, the communication director’s response was negative, but Idowu persisted. In the face of her tenacity, and after consulting with Superintendent Lile, they saw that the district had no choice but to help. Idowu, whose idea had now turned into a proposal from the Black Students Union, was going to march with or without the district’s assistance. Besides, the students had the moral and legal right to peacefully demonstrate, and the district had the moral and constitutional obligation to see that they could exercise those rights.
Propagating and refining the idea: According to Idowu, Babatunde and the students went to work as a team and contacted other adult leaders, including the Mayor, the Chief of Police, DJ Kay Rich, and Brown of the NAACP. They promoted it on numerous social media outlets. Then, people from the community reached out and asked if they could help by donating water and snacks. According to Idowu, “We made a big movement here in Madera, one that I don’t think people can forget about. I hope that this protest was able to convince everyone that it is time to speak up and let our voices be heard.”
Was violence avoidable? When asked by The Tribune if she was ever concerned that the protest might turn violent, Idowu responded, “Yes very much, indeed I was. In the back of my mind, I still had to remember that things could possibly go south at any minute. So I had to sit down with my team, and we had to make plans on what to do and how to react if this were to happen.
“Many people came to me and said ‘Mary have you considered that a riot might start if you do this?’ That is why we worked so hard and reached out for as much help as we could get, especially with the police department and the mayor, to make sure that everything went well.
“I wasn’t going to allow any negative thoughts or any negative actions from other protests stop me from something that I knew could make a big difference and possibly change Madera for the better and bring this community together in SOLIDARITY,” Idowu said. “So my team and I made sure to promote that this is a peaceful protest and would not turn into a riot.”
Where do you go from here? “Now I want to find other ways that I can impact this community in a positive way,” Idowu said. “I spoke and marched, but now it is time for doing. It is now time to start putting my words into reality. I really love working with the youth and want to make a difference. The youth is our future generation and they have voices and should be heard. I plan to attend college and continue to make a positive impact on the youth.”
Madera’s student-led protest march represented the last activity in which the participating seniors, as students, would ever take part. Friday was the last day of the 2019-2020 school year.