They planned this march through north Minneapolis long before Thurman Junior Blevins.
Hundreds of children, parents and teachers will make a 3.5-mile trek through the North Side and downtown on Friday morning. It’s the annual Path to College Walk; each step the kindergartners and middle-schoolers and high-schoolers take is an act of faith in themselves and in a brighter future.
Their neighbors will come out to cheer them on. Five-hundred yard signs are already planted on lawns across north Minneapolis: Future College Grads Live Here.
If the rest of us want to join the party, the students would love a chance to talk about their neighborhood. The one you don’t see in the footage of crime scene tape and curbside memorials to lives cut short by gun violence.
“I want them to know that North Side is not bad,” said Anthony Key, who starts his junior year at Cooper High School this fall. He wants to study engineering at Duke.
The North Side is not bad. North Siders are not bad.
These kids deserve better. They deserve safe streets and schools where black students’ graduation rates are as high as whites’. They deserve to call the police for help without worrying that someone is going to get hurt.
“North Side is a family,” said Keirra Phillips, who will be a senior at St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts this fall and who wants to go to college to study nursing and acting. “Everyone supports each other. Everybody comes together.”
The community came together to organize this march. The Northside Achievement Zone, Minneapolis College, the Cookie Cart, the Plymouth Christian Youth Center and Kwanzaa 21st Century Academy — where Anthony and Keirra spend hours planning their futures and learning coping skills to get them through the fears and frustrations of the present — all pitched in.
But the march starts in the shadow of a fatal police encounter in an alley off Bryant Avenue N. It follows protests and outpourings of fury and sorrow and fear that those kindergartners on the march will face a rockier road to college than some of their peers in other neighborhoods.
We don’t know just what happened to Blevins. Police say he was shooting into the air, endangering his neighbors. Some of those neighbors say he was shot in the back while running away, or tased then shot, or unarmed and sitting peaceably on the curb. We’ll know more if and when the police bodycam footage is released.
What we know for sure is that a family is grieving and a community and its police force is hurting. We know Blevins is the 167th person to die in an officer-involved shooting in Minnesota since 2000.
We know that kids like Keirra and Anthony might be the generation that saves us, that figures out how to fix this tragic mess. Keirra was one of hundreds of youngsters from the Twin Cities who traveled to Washington, D.C., this spring for the March for Our Lives against gun violence.
She dreams of a future “where kids won’t have to be afraid to go outside without … being afraid they’re not going to make it back home. … I don’t want them to be afraid of the people who [are] supposed to be protecting them.”
She remembers walking home from church with her sisters and watching a patrol car rolling up beside them, officers inside staring — “looking at us like we were criminals,” she said. She wants better for her neighbors and family.
“I want them to feel safe in their own community and not be afraid of police who are supposed to serve and protect us from harm or danger,” she said. “If they’re not protecting us, who will?”
The Path to College Walk starts at 10 a.m. Friday in front of the Northside Achievement Zone offices at 2123 W. Broadway Av. The route will wind toward Minneapolis College and a party for the kids in the T-Plaza at 1501 Hennepin Av. For more information visit northsideachievement.org.