More than 200 students, educators and community members gathered in front of Lake Central High School on Tuesday afternoon.
Holding signs with messages like "Love Black people like you love our culture" and "If you think wearing a mask makes it hard to breathe, trying being Black in America!" as the crowd crossed the school's parking lot.
When they reached U.S. 41, the group of peaceful protesters, met by supportive honks of the busy thoroughfare's afternoon traffic, chanted "Say his name" and "No justice, no peace" before taking a knee.
A hush fell over the crowd — their silence broken only by the words of Mateo Cedano, who just completed his senior year at Lake Central.
"Only two minutes has passed," Cedano bellowed a megaphone. "Imagine not being able to breathe ... This is only a fraction of the suffering George Floyd went through."
The crowd held their position for about nine minutes — the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer was captured on video kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, whose death has sparked national outrage over racial injustice and the use of police for force in America.
"As leaders of our generation, we want to fight for change," Cedano said.
Cedano was one of a group of Lake Central seniors who came together over the death of George Floyd. After seeing and attending similar peaceful rallies in St. John and Munster earlier this month, the students began sharing ideas to bring a similar movement to their high school.
Senior Michaela Spears brought the idea to school administration who helped coordinate a day and time with the support of local law enforcement.
"When protesters in Minneapolis started to take action, to say enough is enough, I was with them," Spears said. "It's important to share what is happening right now. It's important to share the experience of being black."
Spears said the purpose of Tuesday's demonstration was to spread love and help empower fellow people of color.
Lake Central — the Region's largest high school by student population — recorded an enrollment with 16.3% of its students identifying as Hispanic and 7.5% as black, according to Indiana Department of Education statistics for the 2019-20 school year.
Lake Central Principal Sean Begley stood behind his students Tuesday, handing out water as the 3 p.m. protest drew into the early evening.
He said it's important to look at internal practices, including what the school is teaching students about race and equity, and in hiring teachers of diverse backgrounds who look like their students.
"When you see something like George Floyd's murder, you think, 'We've got to change. We're better than this,'" Begley said. "It's important for us to mentor these kids to become leaders. To be silent and not facilitate this would speak volumes."
As for the students who organized the protest, many of them are heading off to college in the fall — but they were encouraged by underclassmen friends in the crowd.
"We don't want it to stop after today," Cedano said. "We want it to be a priority to involve as many people as we can, to keep integrating everyone."
Virtual graduation: NWI high schools
Students of this spring's Class of 2020 will graduate in circumstances like no others.
Some will celebrate virtually. Others may push back traditional ceremonies until later this summer. All will come at a distance.
This year, in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic, The Times is saluting these seniors.
We invited valedictorians, salutatorians and selected student speakers to share a few words with the Region; including speeches they had prepared for graduation day, their teachers' support and advice to students who will soon follow in their footsteps.
Here's to the Class of 2020.
Compiled by Carley Lanich, Matthew Moore and Kale Wilk.
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