“This is our thing”: Burlington Youth take Action in Black Lives Matter


Protestors clothed in black march down Burlington’s Pearl Street on September 3, 2020. Photo: Anna Huener

Anna Huener

The killing of George Floyd in May of 2020 sparked an eruption of protests and social media outrage around the United States. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest police brutality and systemic racism. The outrage was felt on a national and local level. One constant throughout the nation is the large-scale involvement of the country’s youth.

Mohamed Abdi, a 2016 BHS graduate, is one of two founders of The Black Perspective, a Chittenden County based organization committed to achieving “equality, justice, and elevation of anyone in need”. The organization was founded after The Black Perspective March in June of 2020 by Abdi and fellow BHS graduate Madey Madey. The group quickly became a source of leadership for Black Lives Matter activists in Vermont. In addition to organizing protests, The Black Perspective has sponsored movie nights, talent shows, and educational events for community members. 

“Racism is something that Vermont is not immune to,” Abdi said. “Our drive is making sure we are initiating those conversations at the table, not just at the Black Lives Matter events.”

Harmony Edosomwan of The Black Perspective leads protestors outside of Burlington’s Police Department on May 30. Photo: Anna Huener

June of 2020 showed an enormous rise in social media activism. Millions worldwide spoke out against police brutality and systemic racism, while others discussed the role of law enforcement as a whole. This passion infected Burlington High School students.

“At the time [after the death of Floyd] it really felt like there was a big shift,” Charlie McConnell said. “It felt like this was something that was not only occurring on social media but outside of it as well.” 

A protest blocks traffic in Montpelier, Vermont on June 7, 2020.
Photo: Anna Huener

McConnell (who, full disclosure, is a Register staff photographer) is a senior at Burlington High School and the co-leader of their Social Justice Union, a group that was instrumental in getting the BLM flag raised on campus in 2018.  Bernadette Mukeba also leads the Social Justice club, and hopes to focus on issues of racism this year.

“This year, we’ll go back to our roots,” Mukeba said. “We’ll focus on what is going on right now.”

Although the focus of the protests is police brutality against BIPOC, students understand that supporting one social movement often helps another.

“I try to get as involved as possible,” BHS junior Rehema Abdi said. “It is really close to my heart because I am a black LGBTQ woman. These issues affect me directly.”

For McConell, attending marches has been a way to take action beyond the ease of social media posts.

“These protests have been a great way to get involved,” McConnell said. “Over the past four or five months, I’ve realized that me saying that I support something is not enough. Interest and support is great, but it’s not enough in any means.”

Hundreds gather outside of Burlington’s Police Department on May 30, 2020.
Photo: Anna Huener

Actions taken by protestors like McConnell have not gone unnoticed. For Rehema Abdi and many others, the attendance at protests has been empowering.

“There’s a great feeling of, wow, these people have your back, when you see thousands of people marching in solidarity with you,” Abdi said. “It’s heartwarming to see so many people in the same place fighting for the same thing.”

BHS Junior Olivia Calderin echoes this sentiment. 

“It’s definitely very moving, hearing people talk and being a part of making history,” Calderin said. “It’s pretty powerful.”

Hundred of protestors occupy the green in front of Vermont’s capitol building on June 7, 2020. Photo: Anna Huener

One can feel the sense of accomplishment in these young people.  They are proud of the role they have played in the BLM movement and have no plans to relent.  

“Students and young people are the most involved, really,” Rehema Abdi said. “So many young people are just not backing down.”

Mukeba believes the activism of the generation is part of their identity.

“I’ve always thought about what will be our generation’s ‘thing’,” Mukeba said. “When the protests and all the marches started, I was like, okay. This is our thing.”

And it is.  

A protestor displays a sign on the green outside Vermont’s capitol building.
Photo: Anna Huener

“I’m still young and there’s still a lot of things that I’ve got to learn,” Abdi said. “But I don’t really like to make excuses for myself. I still hold myself to a pretty high standard.”

Mukeba invites anyone to combat social injustice, no matter their age or ability.

“I want people to know that social justice doesn’t have to be hard,” Mukeba said. “It’s really the small things and the impact that you can make in your community. If you’re my age, you’re a kid. There’s only so much you can do. But what you can do, do it.”