Kushnick Parente photo

Julia Kushnick (left) and Riena Parente distribute flyers about racism leading up to the vigil in Chase Park.

Carrying backpacks with a thousand flyers, Scarsdale High School juniors Julia Kushnick and Riena Parente set out on a 26-mile, 12-hour marathon culminating at the vigil held June 7 in Chase Park to honor the memory of George Floyd and protest the legacy of racism and social injustice that was thrust into the spotlight by his tragic death. Their journey had two goals: to educate the Scarsdale community on racism in the United States and to raise money for the Black Lives Matter Foundation.

The flyer they distributed around Scarsdale highlights the inequality among races in the United States with powerful statistics. For example: “on average, black men in the U.S. receive sentences that are 19.1% longer than those of white men convicted of the same crimes — U.S. Sentencing Commission.”

The flyer also lists ways people can take action, such as signing petitions, donating to organizations, contacting local officials, voting for candidates committed to ending police brutality and absorbing relevant content on media outlets like Netflix(“When They See Us”) and The New York Times (The Anti-Racist Reading List).

“Racism exists in all aspects of our society,” said Parente. “It is important that first, it is acknowledged, and second, it is dismantled.”

“We wanted the flyers to initiate a conversation at home. Whether it is a student showing their parents the flyer and encouraging them to make a difference, or the parents teaching their children about racism. We wanted a discussion.”

Kushnick and Parente dedicated each mile they walked to African Americans who lost their lives due to police brutality or racism in their community. “So, at each checkpoint, we read a paragraph we wrote about an innocent African American victim,” said Parente. “Our first mile was dedicated to George Floyd and our last was dedicated to Breonna Taylor.”  

The students reflected on how their Generation Z peers are reacting after witnessing a tidal wave of protests, riots and demands for change across the nation. As more protests took place, they noticed “an overwhelming tone of either confusion or a desire for change,” said Kushnick.

“Although there was a considerable amount of fear about the riots, students spoke about their own methods of learning more about the root causes of racism in America,” she continued. “Prior to our marathon, we had a Model U.N. meeting where [about] 30 students expressed what they thought they could do to be less comfortable with white privilege. In many households, there is an apparent generation gap between parents and children when it comes to this issue, but this movement addresses human rights, not politics.”

If there is a glimmer of hope following the protests over the death of Floyd, perhaps it is that young people may now be able to envision, with fresh eyes, some degree of transformation.

“Listening to different African American speakers express their feelings on this subject was heart-wrenching and made it clear that this movement is only at its beginning,” said Parente.

“We are already seeing promises of change,” she added. “The other officers involved in George Floyd’s murder were charged, some states are saying they will cut police budgets and reinvest it in the community, and many celebrities are donating large sums of money to the cause.”

The young women said they pushed each other to endure the walk. “Even when it felt like our legs were going to break and our shoulders would collapse from our heavy backpacks,” said Kushnick. “We motivated each other with music, dancing, and having important dialogues about what needs to be changed in our country.”

Kushnick and Parente are close to reaching their goal of raising $1,000 for the Black Lives Matter Foundation. They encourage people to use Venmo (the mobile payment app owned by PayPal) to transfer any amount of money to @rienaparente, which will be donated in full to the organization.

An alternative action, said Kushnick, would be to “take time to educate yourselves by reading our flyer and by becoming more aware of the cruel injustices African Americans face to this day. Each signature signed, vote taken, dollar donated, number called and video watched is another step toward racial equality so please continue to take those actions to ensure progress.”

The flyer is online at https://bit.ly/2UAFXvg.

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