Behind the political curtain: BLM, COVID-19

Eden Drajpuch and Ahania Soni

As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction nationally, Evanston residents and ETHS students have continued to engage in conversations surrounding race and what it means to be an anti-racist in our community. Even amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, a number of these conversations, protests and events have been planned by ETHS students who have since moved to the forefront of political advocacy work. 

On June 8, a Black Lives Matter fundraiser at Mason Park planned by four ETHS seniors raised just about $9000. The event showcased some of Evanston’s teen artists, with performances ranging from dancing and acting to spoken word poetry and original music. The event was socially distant, yet brought in over 500 people. 

“My role as an organizer for the event consisted of reaching out to performers and vendors, managing our social media, organizing the performance schedule, planning rehearsals, helping create posters, and handling the financial aspect of the event,” senior Mika Parisien says. “This experience was amazing, heartfelt, and truly inspiring. I felt that I was able to grow as a human being through organizing this event and really appreciate the efforts that our community is making towards a change, even if it’s far from over.”

Due to the threat of the COVID-19, becoming active in the Black Lives Matter movement online has also become a prominent way to fight for social justice; students have been focusing on educating themselves from home and utilizing social media as a tool for advocacy. 

“Petitions I think are a really important part,” junior Isa Victorson says. “We see how they actually do make a difference. Cases get reopened, and it’s a great way for the public to show their support.”

Another way Americans have expressed their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement has been through participation in political art. Recently, members of the ETHS boys’ basketball team took to the streets to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on Dodge Avenue. 

“[My] coach told us about the mural painting about a week before we did it, and we were all super excited,” senior Jake Vasilias says. “I think it was a really good thing that we were able to do for our community. I was glad to make a positive impact.”

However, despite Evanston being an inherently liberal town, the necessity of anti-racism education and action is still evident. On July 29, a Confederate flag was hung on Lighthouse Beach. When Evanston resident LaShandra Smith-Rayfield saw the flag, she went live on her Facebook, and the video garnered nearly 200,000 views. Despite the fact that Smith-Rayfield was surrounded by other beachgoers, no one stepped up to defend her or to call out a blatantly racist action.

“I think it’s [Evanston] not much of a bubble. There’s still a lot of work to do,” Vasilias says. “There was that whole incident with the Confederate flag at the beach recently.”

Citing recent racist occurrences in Evanston, some student activists hope that the work they are doing will inspire long-term change. 

“In my opinion, the Evanston community continues to support the movement, however, I wish that everyone would do the work and get actively involved,” senior and SOAR member Izzy Basso says. “Intentional action instead of performative action can sustain the longevity of the movement in Evanston.”

For some students, ETHS’ environment has aided them in developing a sense of agency in social justice movements.

“I am grateful for Evanston and specifically ETHS for teaching me how to effectively use my voice in politics and for building my confidence,” senior Nikki Levee says. 

Moving forward, ETHS students continue to protest, engage in conversations and amplify Black voices. Some believe that engaging more of the Evanston community will sustain the push for racial justice.  

“I see room for improvement in the effort to show up and demand change in our community. I want people to know that our fight for change isn’t over and that it’s important to be involved in spaces where you can do so,” Parisien says.