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High school senior and 100 Million US activist Shreya Konkimalla writes about the impact of the murder of George Floyd in her home state, Minnesota, & what the Black Lives Matter movement means to her.

I thought that I understood the extent of racism in my community. For a long time, I have been trying to do my own work educating children, primarily in sheltered communities and mostly white suburbs, about the importance of equity and social justice. I had written a children’s book about social injustice and I had been invited to talk about this topic at schools, Rotary Clubs, and different organizations. I thought this meant that progress was coming, and I was happy to play a part in creating that change.

Yet, I sat in bed, watching the video of George Floyd being murdered less than 10 miles from my home. I was beyond horrified. Even though I considered myself to be aware and educated on anti-Blackness, I did not fully understand the magnitude of this problem until I saw it happen in my own, so-called “progressive,” home.

Police brutality in the United States, especially against the Black community, is not new. Tamir Rice was 12 years old when he was shot by a police officer for having a toy gun. Eric Garner was choked to death by police officers because he was selling cigarettes. Philando Castile was shot by a police officer when being pulled over for a traffic stop. Breonna Taylor was shot by officers after police entered the wrong house. And George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who put continued force on Floyd’s neck with his knee even after hearing him say “I can’t breathe” multiple times.

Soon after the video of George Floyd’s murder was released, Minneapolis was all over the news. Headlines about police brutality and the constant marginalization of the Black community, a topic of discussion long overdue, took over news about coronavirus. I recognized the privilege I had as a non-Black person in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. Even though I am Indian-American, I will never understand the struggles the Black community faces in the United States. I had the privilege of sitting in the comfort of my own home while I watched the violent protests in Minneapolis due to an unfair and broken system.

In the wake of these protests, I’ve heard many comments that come from a place of ignorance or lack of understanding. Many people don’t understand the systemic racism that results in the oppression of Black and other minority populations in America. The roots of this problem are deep and pervasive; they affect people from birth. About a year ago, I visited an inner-city middle school in Minneapolis to give a book talk. I was hyper aware of the stark differences between my wealthy, suburban school and the school I was visiting. Inner city schools such as the one I visited face problems with funding, leading to a lack of resources. Most of these kids lived below the poverty line; for some, the only meal they ate in the day was provided by the school. And of course, most of the students are Black and Brown, directly contrasted to the white dominated suburbs. This is only one small example of systemic disadvantages for Black and minority populations that feeds into a cyclical problem, a problem that is often ignored by the majority of the population. However, this is changing.

Despite the privileges that I, along with many of my suburban friends have, I am proud to see how people have come together during this time. I have seen hundreds of kids and adults at local marches and protests holding signs and chanting. Many have gone to clean up the streets of Minneapolis. People continue to donate money and organize deliveries of groceries to Minneapolis. I’ve seen others, including myself, raise hundreds and thousands of dollars to donate to local organizations and to buy groceries for those in need. I have seen my peers, some who I never expected to, pitch in and post educational materials as well as updates on how they are trying to change and become more aware.

But there is a long way to go. At one peaceful protest in my city, we stood outside the city hall and the police station advocating for justice. Cars passed by, some honking in support and others ignoring our efforts. We even saw someone give us a thumbs down as we chanted “no justice, no peace.” In recent days, I’ve waited for my school to come out with a statement in support of our minority and Black students, but we still don’t have an answer. Such negativity and indifference is the ignorance we are fighting against.

Besides this, there are many dimensions of this problem that we need to be conscious of. We are currently in the midst of a global pandemic that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities. In supporting them, it is important to keep this in mind, and show solidarity rather than occupying Black and Brown spaces. It is important to commit ourselves to encouraging discussions and educating our communities. One does not become anti-racist by doing one action; it means constant action. It means having hard conversations with family members who may be racist and not condoning racism in our social circles. It means listening to Black and Brown voices. It means unlearning racism every day.

There is so much work to be done, but I am so happy with the progress we have made and are continuing to advocate for. I’m proud of my Twin Cities community. I’m proud of my generation. I only ask that we sustain this powerful energy and urgency for change as we move forward to tomorrow.

I urge you to speak up as well and take a look at these resources that raise up Black voices and can help you work to make a difference.

Shreya Konkimalla is a rising senior in high school living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She stands in solidarity with Black voices and works to raise awareness about anti-blackness and police brutality. Shreya joined the 100 Million campaign because she believes that youth mobilization has the ability to solve world issues. She is a published author and is focused on fighting for education equity in local and global spheres.

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