Human chain protest ends in division

Protesters held an eight minute moment of silence in memory of George Floyd. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

Black Lives Matter activists formed a human chain at El Diamante early Friday morning to protest the Visalia Unified School District’s (VUSD) decision to take down the signs memorializing fallen Black souls. Activists used caution tape to link themselves in front of the signs, a symbol of solidarity among students, educators and members of the community.

Gloves, mask, sanitizer and social distancing were encouraged and used to reduce the chance of fanning the flames of the recent COVID-19 surge across California.

Brandon Gridiron, Visalia Unified’s Administrator of Equity and Student Services, was also present acting as a representative for VUSD. His presence was first and foremost to ensure students’ safety after previous altercations between community members and protesters. District representatives also attended the demonstration to announce the District’s decision to honor the demands made by the students.

Protesters stood for hours in the sun, chanting the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain. No District officials made no moves to take down the signs. Instead, they engaged individual activists in dialogue and waited for demonstrations to end before attempting to reveal the decision to meet the student’s demands.

 

#DearVUSD Talks

Organizers disbanded the human chain later that afternoon, and opened up the floor for discussion. Students gathered on the sidewalk and took turns sharing their personal experiences within the District. They shared stories of racism, homophobia, and a variety of concerning allegations against members of the school system. It was a forum emulating the #DearVUSD hashtag trending on Twitter and Reddit.

Once all students had spoken, Gridiron approached the megaphone in hopes of finally initiating a public discussion with protesters, but he was met with resistance. Some activists insisted on preventing him from speaking.

Danielle Lickey, a BLM protester, and Brandon Gridiron, Visalia Unified’s Administrator of Equity and Student Services, had a brief back-and-forth over whether Gridiron, a representative of the district, should be speaking at the protest. Tony Maldonado/Valley Voice

El Diamante alum Danielle Lickey, a private educator and first time participant in the protests, was very vocal about why Gridiron should not be allowed to speak. She claimed that he was attempting to “brainwash” the students.

However, Gridiron was eventually granted a megaphone and given the opportunity to talk. But because efforts throughout the day to express his support and willingness to compromise with students as a member of the District had fallen short time and time again, he decided to shift gears and call upon his personal experiences as a father and a Black man from Visalia.

 

District’s Plea for Compromise Divides Protesters

Gridiron shared an impassioned story about how he had attended over twenty funerals growing up, how he had to be cautious about wearing dark clothing at night, how he struggled to be recognized as an educator because of his skin color and how his daughter feared for his life so much that she felt compelled to give her father a “lucky unicorn bracelet” to keep him safe.

Afterwards, Gridiron reminded students once again that he was there to fight alongside the students in solidarity and was more than willing to work with them to meet their needs.

“I came out here with the purpose of fighting with you,” he explained. “I’ve said this and I’ll say it before, I stand in solidarity with you against the fight of racism, injustice, and violence.”

He then announced the District has committed to the four demands made by student leadership in a closed forum on Monday:

  1. Mural to Memorialize Signs
  2. Re-location of BLM Signs
  3. Free Speech Spaces on Campus for Students
  4. Weekly Public Forums

Unfortunately, Gridiron’s speech and intentions of compromise once again failed to resonate with some protesters.

Lickey took to the megaphone immediately after and criticized Gridiron for failing to call out his peers in the District:

“Don’t tell me that ‘I’m with you, I’m this, I’m that’ if you can’t even stand up to the people that you work with,” Lickey said. “You can’t even call them out by name. This is 400 years in the making. You have to demand them to change. Force them to change.”

By this point, emotions were running high. It had been nearly a full day since the protest had started. The solidarity and unity between the District and the students displayed in the morning was no longer to be found. And the dialogue had devolved into unproductive exchanges.

Activists seemed divided between the statements made by Gridiron and Lickey, with some appreciating and willing to accept the District’s efforts to compromise, while others preferred to push for more drastic change like the immediate removal of VUSD staff and students who were called out.

Organizer Leila Mori, 30, supported Lickey’s comments, stating that they were not satisfied with “Brandon’s attempts to pacify the situation as quickly as possible”. She claimed that Gridiron was argumentative and was “gaslighting” direct questions from students. In addition, she was critical of the District for holding the closed forum where only a handful of students were involved in negotiations that ultimately affected the student body and community as a whole.

Other activists were more critical of Lickey. They believed she hijacked the protest from student leadership and discounted Gridiron’s consistent attempts to work with them.

Organizer Serena Salcido, 19, felt that both Gridiron and Lickey were in the wrong for losing sight of the “what the whole protest was about”. It was supposed to be a discussion for students to be heard. But In the end, it looked more like a feud between a member of the District and a private school educator with no previous involvement in the protests.

Salcido stated that she did not attempt to stop the dispute because “their voices were just as important.”

 

What Happens Next?

It was difficult to judge based on the exchanges if any headway had been made between the District and the students. There seemed to be no consensus among those present, but Gridiron released a statement after the protest expressing his optimism and call for unity.

Dear Fellow Visalians,

It is with deep sorrow and concern that I share this message.  I feel compelled to write to you now that fear, anger, and frustration are manifesting across our country and right here in Visalia.  The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor have impacted our entire country and people all around the world.  For many of us, this is just another reminder of the many other recent tragedies that have occurred, a reminder of the cruel history of events that have taken place in our country, and the reality that things still need to change.  The anger, fear, and outrage that are being demonstrated are a manifestation of this reality and a demand for this change.  It is without question that things need to change, in fact they must change, not just for this generation, but for generations to come.

I still believe Dr. Kings’ dream that our children will grow up in a nation “where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” A dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, that all men are created equal.” Despite the difficulties and frustration at the moment, I still have that dream. In the words of Dr. King, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”  This is that time, our time to band together to ensure Dr. Kings’ dream becomes a reality, and to work together to ensure the necessary changes for the betterment of our community and this nation.

This fight must include all of us (Doctors, Educators, Lawyers, Law Enforcement, Parents, Religious Leaders, Students…our entire community), all of us demonstrating that we can work together for equality and justice. Our community needs it, and we deserve it.

In the words of Cesar Chavez, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

We are in this together!

Courtesy/Stacy Brand

Salcido and other organizers believed the protest was a success and was a move towards progress despite the dispute between Gridiron and Lickey during the talks.

College of the Sequoia professors were present at the demonstration in support of the students and some felt perhaps it was time for the students to move on to greener pasture and embrace the decision to move the signs to COS.

Gridiron told the students that the college’s police department has committed to patrolling the parking lot daily to ensure the signs stay untouched. The lot also has cameras, he said, which would reveal any vandals who attempted to remove or deface them.

“I think that these students have outgrown their high school,” Anthropology Professor Dr. Marla Prochnow explained. “I think they’re ready to come to college. Symbolically, it’s the right move because this is bigger than a K-12 district. We have curriculum and teachers that teach about these topics.”

Student organizers were appreciative of the gesture from the professors, but still felt that the decision to move the signs defeats the purpose of attempting to enact change at VUSD by bringing that sort of curriculum to the K-12 system.

“Give more ethnic studies, Diego Montor, 19 explained. “Give more education on LGBTQ, sexual education, and on consent…It is our district’s fault that these problems are happening and nothing is being done about them because they never properly educated students.”

Gridiron assured students there are classes like that coming down the pipeline at a state-level, but again, that sort of change is a process and takes time to incorporate into the system.

14 thoughts on “Human chain protest ends in division

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  1. Dr. King’s “dream” did come true. Unfortunately the pervious presidential administration made it their agenda to destroy his dream.

  2. Vusd will own this. BLM is a Marxist terrorist organization. Believe in ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER SHOULD BE THE MOTO! This is sad that this younger generation are pawns in this political game BLM is playing!

  3. VUSD specifically Brandon G are liars. This was to be for student and now u have a 19 yr old, 29 yr old and other adults organizing this.

    Branden G. On a phone call stated he would personally remove the posters Friday. Now he is licking their shoes.

    Your have teachers using private confidential student info to contact them (Students ) and organize against VUSD. You should be ashamed!

    I am glad my kids are out of your lying school district and I pity those who let kids attend your school. I for one will vote down any measure for money to your schools.

    I pray nothing happens due to your neglect of this situation because any blood spilled will be on your hands VUSD

  4. Thanks for the extensive reporting on this most critical of issues in our nation and here in our community. There are no easy answers. But our high school young people are asking the right questions and speaking their brave truths. I’m so damn proud of them, even as the situation is complicated and messy.

  5. So what about those claims of sexual abuse at the hands of teachers and staff? Yikes VUSD.

  6. Good reporting.

    Gotta challenge pretty much everything Mr. Montor said, “Give more ethnic studies” … “Give more education on LGBTQ, sexual education, and on consent…It is our district’s fault that these problems are happening…”

    There’s plenty of education already, too much, actually, and it’s not the district’s fault the students have these issues.

    Just live your lives by your principles – everything will sort itself.

  7. As a society, all people(races/ cultures) have suffered oppression & racism. Many continue to experience it. To single one out over others is wrong. I believe black lives matter. But, I also believe all lives matter. To single one out is to demean the experiences that others have had to endure. As a young Jr. High student, I was introduced to books that told of the movement of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I will forever admire his dedication. 2 of my favourite parts of his speech are when they speak of:
    1)”sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
    and
    2) “I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification”, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.”
    To single one out takes away from this message. The movement would have drawn me if it was called AllLivesMatter & spoke of the oppression threat each race faced. I have sent emails to both VUSD & to the city of Visalia ro ser what the prerequisite is to post items. If one viewpoint is allowed to be posted, all should be allowed(barring hate messages). I agree that black lives matter, but i also believe all lives(black, brown, white, yellow…) matter. To be accepting of the statement #blacklivesmatter, one must also be accepting to the term #whitelivesmatter.

    • The most basic human assumption is that all lives matter. Saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that other lives don’t. If that were the case, we would expect it to be called “Only Black Lives Matter”. I think we all can benefit from thinking critically about why saying “black lives matter” is so deeply offensive to our moral codes. Black people were viciously stolen from their native land by White colonizers and enslaved for hundreds of years. Black people were segregated up until 60 years ago. Black people were then forced into ghettos by a process called “redlining”. Look it up. As of 2019, 33% of Black children were living in poverty compared to 10% of White and Asian Children, and 26% of Latino children. Black students are suspended at higher rates than any other race nationally including VUSD. Black drivers are 20% more likely to be pulled over for traffic stops than White people. Ask yourself this question: would I want to be a Black person? Take some time to think about your answer…you will then understand why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important.

      • Ashley, your quotation of statistics is an apple to orange comparison. Ask yourself why more blacks are in poverty and you will see that having a two parent family and getting a high school and/or college education are the main determination factors for ALL races and this, especially the two parent family and absent fathers is also a major factor in kids being in trouble and the “pipeline to prison”. There needs to be major changes in black culture. Don’t believe me, well just search for Don Lemon of CNN comments stating exactly this in 2013. BLM is anti-family and a Marxist organization that will make things much worse for all peoples if they get their way.

  8. One student demands that classes on lgbtq and consent be part of the curriculum??? Reading the student’s comments and seeing how these younger people speak and write leads me to believe what they REALLY need is a lesson in grammar, spelling and most importantly, Civics and American history!! Too bad they can’t teach a class in deportment as well, because they need it badly.

    • Let me guess. You walked five miles both to and from school, somehow uphill both ways, and only had rocks and sticks as toys.

  9. There is more intelligent life on Mars than in the pictures above. They don’t know what BLM really is. A Marxist cabal. The problem is they wouldn’t understand a single thing if you attempted to explain it. Lemmings. Just lemmings!

  10. I can tell you that as a blind person, though White, I have been denied employment opportunity, and in one case, housing as well. My partner was, honestly, infantalized by one of Visalia’s finest.

    Maybe some serious questions need to be confronted within the Black community! why do so many of their youth embrace criminal activity in the first place? Why is ther so much Black on Black crime? Even the mayor of Atlanta, a Black women posed that very question recently.

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