Even though Lakewood High School is racially diverse, senior Sydney Heckeler sees racial equity as an issue that needs to be addressed in her community.
“A lot of adults and students who are white both at my school and in the community-at-large see Lakewood as being diverse, [and is] therefore free of racism,” says Heckler. "We have many different people—refugees from other countries, people of all identities, race, and origin—which makes many people believe that because they don’t see any racism or they see a diverse community that those people are not still faced with insensitive jokes, slurs, name calling, racial profiling.”
Student-organized Lakewood Kneel In at Lakewood Park.So, last week Heckeler decided to hold a protest at Lakewood Park. Kneel In Lakewood: A Gathering for the Lakewood Community brought together four Lakewood High School students and graduates—LaNiqua Jones, Nasia Shields, Ayanna Ramos, and Tyler Hannah—on Wednesday, June 10 to share their stories of discrimination and racism.
“The purpose of this rally is to bring awareness of this whole issue to the injustices and issues in our community and what can we do to make our community better,” said Shields as she thanked the crowd for coming. “How can we educate? How can we take action? How can we make change for our kids in the future? We’re not trying to bash, but we are educating.”
Heckler agrees with Shields. “They wanted to share their stories so that their peers, especially the white ones, realize that black people and students still face the same issues and racial bias that the entire country and world face, even in a city perceived as liberal,” she says.
The event brought out about 300 people, Heckeler says, including high school teachers and principal Mark Walter. “I think it went really well,” she says. “There were people sitting all around the stage, people were sitting in little pods, socially distancing. Everyone was here for a social cause.”
Lakewood High School student and track star Hannah shared his observations. “I’ve never seen, in my experience, a white person be oppressed, a white person actually experience racism, or be pulled over by a cop because of his skin color,” he told the crowd. “I’ve never seen it. Ever.”
Shields, also an athlete, shared her fears about running alone in Lakewood—especially after the Georgia shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. "Just thinking about running in a suburban neighborhood and being scared for my life, I cannot jog anywhere alone by myself,” she told the group. “And I’m scared every single day. I try to be strong. People say a black woman has to be strong, but who is protecting us?”
Student Olivia Cunningham ran a lemonade stand to raise more than $250 in donations for the family of Breonna Taylor, the Louisville EMT who was killed by police, and Planned Parenthood donated tote bags to raise funds for the Taylor donations. Giant Eagle Lakewood and Action Together Lakewood donated cases of water and other supplies for the event.
Heckeler says she thinks the rally brought the Lakewood community together. “I feel like the community was there for a dialogue and to listen,” she says. “I feel like the entire community came out for it.”