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Teens reflect on organizing Hall Road protest

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 23, 2020

 From left, Ariana Belyue, 16; Mary Vucaj, 17; and Angel Santana, 15; lead the June 6 march from Sterling Heights to Clinton Township along Hall Road. The choir classmates organized the event.

From left, Ariana Belyue, 16; Mary Vucaj, 17; and Angel Santana, 15; lead the June 6 march from Sterling Heights to Clinton Township along Hall Road. The choir classmates organized the event.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — It started out as a joke and later turned into about 5,000 people of all ages and races marching peacefully down Hall Road on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

A June 6 protest, one of many public demonstrations nationally and worldwide as a result of the May 25 death of George Floyd, was led by three Chippewa Valley High School students.

Mary Vucaj, 17; Ariana Belyue, 16; and Angel Santana, 15; were cohorts in choir class and discussed the prospect of putting on a protest in the Macomb County suburbs.

Santana, who is black, said Hall Road was a premier destination “because it’s right in the middle of everything.” A flyer was quickly created and posted on Twitter and Snapchat.

At about 9 a.m. June 4, two days before the protest, Santana said there was a knock on her door. It was two Clinton Township Police Department officers dressed in plainclothes, asking about what they had heard was a developing protest. A discussion occurred in preparation of a peaceful march.

Vucaj said the trio saw what had already taken place in cities like Detroit, that “they were making some noise.” She tweeted to “take the protests to the white suburbs.”

“People started reposting and retweeting and people started caring,” said Vucaj, who is Albanian and recently graduated from CVHS.

The teens thought 200 people would show that day, if they were lucky. Suddenly, thousands of people poured onto blocked-off streets. She was “100% overwhelmed with joy.”

“When you see people in your community standing with you for something you believe like this, it feels good. … No matter who is in office, America was built off a lot of racism that people really don’t understand,” said Belyue, who is black and will be a junior this fall. “If you look where things originated and how things were built, the system is against some people.”

Santana called it the “craziest experience” of her life, helping to organize something “really heartwarming” that brought out the community for a common goal of positive change. She was nearly moved to tears.

Before the march began, she spoke to the crowd and said she is helping to fight these battles now so her future children can live better lives. She said that since she was born, she realized she has to push herself “10 times harder” to be on the same level as her white peers.

“I don’t want my kids to have to come to me and ask why they’re being judged by their skin color, or why people are being treated differently, or why they’re getting bullied or hurt,” said Santana, a junior this fall. “I want them to feel safe in America, period. I don’t want to feel the same type of pain that my mother does right now for her sons. I don’t want my kids to be seen as a threat. I can’t control the color of my skin; I can’t change who I am.”

The amount of white representation in attendance to her was a sign that many people understand the oppression and that it takes a societal effort for real change to occur.

“We need to have allies in order to change anything,” she said. “This is not just a battle for black people; it’s a battle for everyone. It’s antiracists against the racists. Everyone is fighting for change.”

Vucaj said seeing a mix of people come out for the cause was “surreal.” She said it’s part of her role “as an ally to the black community” to decrease the tolerance for hatred in communities where it can be most uncomfortable to address hard truths.

This November she will be able to vote for the first time.

“If you can vote, you should,” she said. “Being able to actually do something and be a part of the masses, it matters to me. Now I feel like I’m being taken seriously.”

Belyue said it’s “just amazing to know” that people in the community in which she lives have “good intentions and understand the importance of Black Lives Matter.”

“People are stronger together, no matter who you are, how young you are,” she said. “Things will start to change. Things have to change.”