Seniors share their Black Lives Matter experiences

Walton and Thorpe work to ensure social justice


Photo submitted

During a Black Lives Matter protest in Downtown Indianapolis this past summer, from left, Director of Philanthropic Engagement Mrs. Jean Smith ‘97, senior Whitley Walton and sophomore Kamryn Smith show their support for social justice and racial equality. During Black History Month, Walton and senior Brooklynn Thorpe share their experiences.

Ava Amos, Co-Editor-in-Chief

While February is Black History Month, the Black Lives Matter movement encompasses more than just 28 days. 

Two seniors, Brooklynn Thorpe and Whitley Walton, both of whom became involved in the movement for social and racial justice, shared their own personal stories, perspectives and thoughts on their experiences. 

Walton said, “The Black Lives Matter movement is a movement created to help protect Black people against systemic racism and police brutality, and it is one that has existed long before this year and long before the hashtag started back in 2013. It’s an issue that addresses how Black people have been discriminated against and treated wrongly from the start (with) Black codes, Jim Crow laws, voting disenfranchisement (and other issues.)”

Thorpe added that it’s a movement that empowers Black people against systemic racism, but also a place where Black people can come together from all over the world in order to connect to build a better place for Black people to exist, “for us to be able to safely exist without feeling threatened and feeling like our lives are on the line at all times,” Thorpe said.

Walton spoke about the moment her eyes were really opened to the injustices Black people face in their day-to-day lives and how it’s impacted her very deeply, saying, “When I was young, I did not really know what Black Lives Matter was until I got into high school, and that’s when I realized that Black people were treated differently systemically and socially, especially after the shooting that happened with Dreasjon Reed over the summer, it was a moment that really opened my eyes because it’s no longer something that could just happen to people in bigger cities or places not here. It happens in your home, in your own city.

Walton said, “My older brother, who is the same age as Dreasjon, they were both in the same beautillion class. For that to happen to Dreasjon, it really made real that can happen to my brother, or happen to my cousins, or anything like that.”

On a similar note, Thorpe said the movement has made her aware of the struggle of being Black in America. She said, “This movement has really opened up, and made me realize the small things in life that I’ve gone through are a build-up of history that’s never ended. And these biases that are set up against Black people 24/7. It made me realize that even though I don’t see myself as (a target), others may see me as a target because I am Black.

These biases are set up against Black people 24/7.”

— Senior Whitley Walton

“The movement has influenced me because this really made me see how people in the world really view Black people and how history has viewed Black people. It’s made me realize that I have to do something so that I can have a better future and so the people that come after me can have a better future because I can’t sit around and wait for change to happen, because it hasn’t happened. It’s not happening, we’re not moving at the pace we should be moving at. We’re not moving fast enough because Black lives are still dying. It’s influenced me to continue on and really be an advocate for all Black lives.”

Both stressed how important this movement is to them and how if people can’t see the bigger picture of what the movement is all about, then that’s an issue.

Walton said, “This movement is of the utmost importance to me and I feel if anyone speaks badly about the movement as a whole, they’re speaking badly about me, they’re speaking badly about Black people. Because if you can only look at the bad parts of a movement and not see the reasoning behind it or all the good that will come out of it, then you’re a part of the problem.”

Thorpe emphasized that she has to be mindful every day of the fact that she is Black due to how Black people are treated, so this movement is important to her because it’s fighting to make a change in society. She said, “I live and breathe every day as a Black person in America. There’s no way I can change the color of my skin, the race or my ethnicity. I am Black. I have to be conscious of the fact that I am Black when I walk into certain places because of how Black people are still treated in America.”

She said that it’s a movement for her rights along with all the people who come after her and the children she wants in the future, “so if I’m not a part of this movement for me, I don’t believe I’m helping myself in the future. I have to be a part of a change that I want to see, and being a part of this movement is being a part of the change that needs to happen for Black people in America and around the world.”

Using social media 

Each of them has tried to do her part to contribute to the movement in order to educate and raise more awareness. Along with attending many protests and having more one-on-one discussions with people in order to educate them and try to get them to understand the movement, and they have exerted influence on social media by posting more about the subject by posting links and donations. Walton said, “In the age of social media we need to spread this good information as fast as we can because there’s so much bad information on there.” She added that she even wrote the Black Lives Matter article for the Cathedral Highlights magazine for alumni.

Thorpe said she’s been centering her school projects around the topic as well, “because I am in (International Baccalaureate), we have some freedom to choose where we want to specify our projects and look at them, so, I’ve spent a lot of my projects looking at things concerning Black Lives Matter and Black people in general and what is wrong with the way society treats them. We need and can do better.” Even though they both stated that they feel the nation still has a long way to go for racial equality, they do feel that the Black Lives Matter movement has made a significant impact on our society.

Walton said, “I never thought in my lifetime I would see some type of change happen with the way Black people are treated especially by the police because I’ve been knowing about this stuff ever since three years ago when I really started to get into it. It’s always been on my mind and if I tried talking to someone else about it they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s not real. What are you talking about?’ When Colin Kaepernick first started to kneel, people still weren’t believing it was real. They were like, ‘This is my first time hearing about this, I’ve been around for 67 years I’ve never heard of this.’

“To have something so big happen, something so major shift, and (occur) not only our nation but countries across the globe. They were protesting in Paris and England and Japan, like this was real. And I felt really excited because I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to finally see some change made and some legislation passed, some statues created and a change in the way we’re treated by other people.’”

Thorpe said this isn’t the beginning of her interest in the movement and stems from when she was younger. She said, “I have been interested in the movement for a very long time. I think it’s because I’ve had experiences being younger where I was followed around stores and assumed (I was) stealing. I was in places like Sephora, or higher-end stores and I was assumed to be stealing at the age of 13. I was followed around a store with my cousin because we were shopping for makeup, and so being in experiences like that have forced me to open my eyes and see the world as it is and how they see Black people.

“I do believe I’ve always been a part of the movement before this year because I was put into situations where I saw the reality of the world I lived in and the reality of how Black people were treated in America. This forced me to see that there was change needed to be made and that I wanted to be a part of making.”

Along with discussing the significance of this impactful movement, Walton shared some instances of mistreatment that her own family members have faced. She said that her mother receives a lot of mistreatment in the workplace, and the combination of her mother being a woman and being Black puts her at a disadvantage.

Walton said, “My mom works in news and journalism and she’s one of the only Black people in the room, especially the only Black woman in the room. So, this time has been really hard for her because not only is she covering a pandemic but she’s also covering racism.

“Being the only voice in the room to represent the whole race, ‘cause that’s always what happens, it’s just so hard on her mentally and a lot of the people are older white men (who) don’t understand it and they’ll have these horrible remarks and offenses to her. It’s just so horrible she shouldn’t have to go through that. (The men) are always making back-handed comments to her and thinking that she can’t do (things). She’s in a higher-level position at her job and even being the news director people still want to treat her like she doesn’t (deserve) respect.”

Feeling support as a Hoosier

When protests started becoming more prominent, Walton said these events made her feel like she was actually being supported, which isn’t a feeling that arises very often. “I live in Indiana, so you feel like there’s never enough support for Black people out here. But when the protests were happening. I felt so grateful and so appreciative that people would actually come out during a pandemic, wear their masks, have their signs and have their voices ringing out in the streets chanting ‘Black Lives Matter.’

“Like that was so powerful to me and I was really happy to see a lot of white folks there too, a lot of Latinx folks, a lot of Asian folks. It just really made me feel like I was being supported and that it’s no longer going to be a fight just for Black people, it’s a fight that everyone is willing to put forward,” Walton said.

Thorpe shared a similar perspective on the protests, saying that they showed her that there are other people, not just Black people, who care about the injustice Black people face. She said, “I think one part of the protest that really stood out to me were the white people who were willing to stand in front of Black people during the protest because they understood that they were higher up on the social chain and they were willing to risk their lives to stand there and fight, (even though there were) numerous people who were put into jail over these protests, just their willingness to continue on and still protest because they knew it was the right thing to do, it just showed me that people care.”

Walton provided her big picture perspective when she said, “The Black Lives Matter movement is really important because it’s really showing the world that our lives are important, our lives should not be treated less than others. And to everyone who says ‘all lives matter,’ all lives matter cannot matter until Black lives matter.”