WO students participate in demonstration

Students participate in the protest to support Patrick Lyoya.

Abby Hogan

Students participate in the protest to support Patrick Lyoya.

A crowd of students walks together toward the basketball court between the north and south buildings yesterday during seminar. They join, all wearing blue,  to support the family of Patrick Lyoya and to challenge the Grand Rapids Police Department on their role in Lyoya’s death. The event was organized by the Multicultural Student Organization (MSO).

   The abundance of blue is notable. Blue signifies peace and unity, which was the focus of this protest. 

   The protest featured a table with leaders and student speakers including Frosh. Aubree Veltema, Jr. Cindy Bahena, Sr. Oiseanna Wilson, and Jr. Mariah Stewart. Jr. Quincey Leonard played a significant role in organizing the event. 

   She felt it necessary to create a peaceful protest and teach others to speak up. She also had a mentor to help her plan the event, Gezelle Grier, a former Holland High student and a great source of wisdom for Stewart.

   Students were asked to form a circle around the basketball court creating a sense of togetherness. In this circle, students listened to multiple student speakers. 

   One speech in particular tugged on the audience’s heart strings. Bahena told the story of her parents who immigrated and how the police deported her father when she was six-years-old. Pausing to fight back tears, Bahena said because of this she wasn’t able to see her father unless she visited in jail.

    “My parents came here to better themselves and their family. It’s so crazy that one minute you can have your family all together but the next they can take someone forever,” said Bahena. 

   After several students spoke, they asked everyone to write a letter to either the Grand Rapids Police Department or to Lyoya’s family. With templates in hands or words from their hearts, students sat for ten minutes writing these letters. 

   One of MSO’s leaders, Erin Stier, was grateful to see today’s youth fighting for justice and using their voices. “I feel fortunate and proud to know all of the people that are standing here. You look at the world and say ‘This is where we’re at, and it’s not going to get any better.’ Or you think this progress is slow. But, when I look at everyone here and I see you all coming together, speaking up, wearing blue, and writing letters, it makes me feel less anxious and tentative about the future of the world because I know together, with the youth that comes after us, that it will inspire us to create a more equitable society,” said Stier. 

   The gathering ended with a moment of silence to honor the life of Patrick Lyoya. Students left feeling saddened but also empowered. 

   West Ottawa has always promoted inclusivity and using your voice, and it was amazing to see just what that message can do.