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Corvallis youth lead the call for racial justice in downtown protest
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Corvallis youth lead the call for racial justice in downtown protest

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Adults aren't the only ones paying attention.

"Black lives matter," said 5-year-old Gabriel Clark, who is black. "And I matter."

Civil unrest has been constant since the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a black man, during his arrest by a group of non-black Minneapolis police officers. Children are asking for change, too.

In Corvallis on Saturday, more than 300 people gathered in Central Park to demonstrate their frustration with police brutality and inequality during the Kids March for Racial Justice. At least half of the participants ranged in aged from toddlers to high-schoolers.

Tim Clark, Gabriel's dad, marched with his wife Stephanie, Gabriel's 3-year-old sister Sariah as well as Stephanie's 15-year-old sister Karyssa Negrete. He said he wants his children to grow up able to trust law enforcement, but he also wants to show them they have a voice.

"I see these faces of black people getting killed at the hands of police brutality," Clark said. "They look just like my brothers, my sisters — me."

Maggie Biga, an 8-year-old white protester, said she doesn't want black people to be treated poorly anymore and that marching is a good start.

"If I came here it would show spirit," Maggie said. "A lot of my friends are black, and I don't want them to be treated badly."

The march was organized by Serene Mellenthin of Our Revolution – Corvallis Allies. Mellenthin, a white educator who works for the Corvallis Environmental Center, said she was happy to see so many of her peers show up with their children and support the effort to raise a new generation of leaders.

"Even those of us with white privilege ... (are) trying to support any person of color that needs us," she said. "I have faith that these families are the beginning of something big."

Mellenthin said it's time to start holding peers accountable when it comes to teaching racial justice to children. Racism, she said, has been passed down for far too long.

"If I accept that families are not doing the very best they can to help their community, then what reason do I have to live?" she said. "I have to believe that change is possible."

On Saturday, change was personified as a group of young children holding a "Kid's March for Racial Justice" banner as they led the group from the park to the Benton County Courthouse on Fourth Street.

They were followed by a group of teenagers leading chants of "black lives matter" and "no racist police, no justice, no peace," among others. They yelled out the names of recent black victims of police brutality: Floyd from Minnesota, Breonna Taylor from Kentucky, Tony McDade from Florida and more.

The May 27 death of McDade, who was a transgender man, hit home especially with protester Cole Wilson. Wilson, who identifies as transmasculine and nonbinary (and thus uses the pronouns they, them and their), said it was important for their white 8-year-old son, Calvin, to participate in Saturday's march.

"We try to say everyone's name," Wilson, who is white, said," but the list is like a book."

Their partner, Molly Zimmerman, who is also white, said she wants to teach Calvin that racism is more than just a dinner table discussion between his parents.

"We want him to know that racism exists, that it's real," she said. "We want him to be ready to fight when he's a grown up."

Some Corvallis-area officials were present, including Ward 2 Councilor Charles Maughan and Corvallis School District Superintendent Ryan Noss.

"The idea was just to give kids a platform — let their voices be heard," Maughan said.

And a platform they provided. Once the march began, adults said little to nothing, except to reign in stray kids or participate in chants.

"I'm here to hear our students and our youth," Noss said. "It feels good to see kids from strollers all the way through high-schoolers out here today. I learn as much from them as they learn from us."

In an opening statement at the park, local teacher Brea Lewis told the crowd she wants parents to keep an open mind and a clear channel of communication with their kids, especially in these uncertain times.

"It's OK to learn together," Lewis said. "Your child is never too young ... to understand what is happening. Even the bare bones is, 'People are not being nice to other people and that's unfair.'"

Reporter Nia Tariq can be reached at nia.tariq@lee.net.

Managing Editor Bennett Hall contributed to this story.

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