For Ana L. of Ardsley, the death of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor of Louisville felt personal. Taylor was shot by police on March 13, 2020, during the execution of a no-knock search warrant of the apartment she and her boyfriend shared.
“She was once a black girl just like me,” the seventh-grader said about Taylor last week. “I had to stand up for what’s right.”
In recent months, Ana enlisted her brother, Ari, a sixth-grader, as well as her classmates Trisha I. and Gabby N. to form the Young World Changers, an activist group dedicated to making the world a better place. The Enterprise decided to not publish their last names due to concerns expressed by a parent.
The four middle school students hosted a rally at Louis Pascone Memorial Park in Ardsley on Sunday, Aug. 30, where they demanded justice for Taylor and other victims of recent racially charged police shootings, including Ahmaud Arbery, Jacob Blake, and George Floyd.
“These police officers didn’t take into consideration the fact that she had a whole future ahead of her,” Trisha said of Taylor, referring to Taylor’s work as an emergency medical technician [EMT] and as an emergency room technician. “She could have helped save many lives, and she did save many lives.”
Dozens attended the rally. Featured speakers included each of the organizers, as well as New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Ardsley Mayor Nancy Kaboolian, Ardsley Schools Superintendent Ryan Schoenfield, and Ardsley Police Chief Anthony Piccolino.
Attendees were required to wear masks, and the microphone was disinfected between speakers, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
One theme shared in multiple speeches was the need for tangible change beyond the rally. Numerous statements touched on the importance of voting in November, of electing leaders willing to fight for racial justice. In his address, Latimer pointed to Stewart-Cousins, the first Black female senate majority leader in state history, as an example of the representation and leadership that can be possible in government when citizens vote.
Programs passed out to rally attendees listed links to petitions, phone numbers for elected officials in New York and in Louisville, and more information to encourage attendees to take further action against racial injustice.
Nearly every speaker praised the Young World Changers, commending their resourcefulness and enthusiasm for racial justice at such an early age.
Schoenfield said, “The most impactful initiatives are ones that are grassroots, from the students, which have passion and goodwill behind them… It’s easy to get behind those efforts, and it’s more impactful because we don’t have the perspective of our younger learners.”
“My response to this is incredible hope, because these young people are the future, and they are demanding a future that is equal and hopeful for themselves,” she said. “I’m just incredibly impressed that they [the organizers of the event] would spend a Sunday afternoon rallying for causes that they really shouldn’t have to be worried about.”
Stewart-Cousins was moved to tears as Ana welcomed her to the microphone with an enthusiastic introduction. The senator explained, “The response I had was because of her heartfelt appreciation for what she feels I, as a Black woman, represent to her and her future.”
The Ardsley Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and the Ardsley Racial Advocacy Committee for Equity (R.A.C.E.) helped the organizers prepare for and promote the event.
Ana was inspired to form the Young World Changers, and to host the rally, after attending a Juneteenth event at Pascone Park on June 19. After seeing high school and college students speak at that event, the middle-schooler felt empowered.
“I couldn’t just sit at home and watch as my Black brothers and sisters died because of our skin color,” she said. “I knew I had to do something, I knew I had to make change in the world.”