Mekka Lloyd, a student at Obama Academy, grapples with how to make progress on the pandemic of racism and balance her views with what her beloved grandmother shares about her own experiences and the history of the Civil Rights Movement.
JOURDAN HICKS: In Pittsburgh, young people have been coming out of quarantine to power the biggest civil rights movement in their lifetime.
<sounds from Allderdice protest>
On June 11, the Black student union at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill led a sit-in.
<sound of reading of names of victims of police brutality>
The students read biographies of victims of police brutality and called on the crowds to show solidarity with Black people and Black students.
CLIP (unnamed student): “And if you are against us be prepared to be the new minority. Do not forget to donate, sign petitions and volunteer in your Black communities and support Black business and most importantly educate yourself as well as others around you.”
JOURDAN HICKS: Rep. Summer Lee addressed the crowd of about 200 students.
CLIP (Summer Lee): “We can’t wait for these kids to grow up. We can’t wait for ya’ll to grow up. Because liberation refuses to wait any longer if you can’t tell something is different now. If it doesn’t feel different to you then wake up. Something is different now.. . .”
JOURDAN HICKS: Later that same day in Bloomfield, skateboarders got together to honor the humanity that was George Floyd and others killed by police.
<sound from that march>
The traffic stopped and they led a rolling march on the Bloomfield Bridge.
<sounds of the protest>
And in Fox Chapel, about 500 residents gathered for what was billed as a “kid-friendly peaceful rally” in support of Black Lives Matter.
<sounds of the protest>
A helicopter circled overhead and police in yellow vests directed traffic.
The first speaker was William Generett, the graduating president of the Black Student Union at Fox Chapel High School.
CLIP (William Generett): “Actively fighting racism in our school community matters.”
MEKKA LLOYD: “America has a lot of blood on its hands. They know that if all of these marginalized groups mixed with white allies mix with other demographics, where to come together, we'd be unstoppable and things would change for sure. “
JOURDAN HICKS: Mekka Lloyd is one of those teenagers who has been turning out to protests whenever she can. She lives with her grandmother in Brighton Heights. And grandma hasn’t always been too happy about Mekka’s activism.
MEKKA: “She sees it as, ‘Oh my God you’re going to get injured and I’m scared for you.” and I understand that, but I’m going to this protest!”
We’ll hear more from Mekka, and her grandmother, Geraldine, right after this break.
MEKKA: I am Mekka Lloyd, I'm an 11th grader at Obama High School.
I'm 17 years old. I live in the Brighton Heights area of the North Side.
Well, I definitely, and I feel like a lot of people have during this time, I've learned a lot about myself. So I've been trying to pay more attention to what I think and what I overthink and try to, like, give myself more attention than I normally do. It gets kind of hard. We're engineered to be social creatures. And when you don't have that, you have to become very comfortable with yourself. As far as online learning, I'll just say it here: I hope Pittsburgh Public Schools sees this. I hate it. I absolutely do. And I know all my friends do. I never thought I’d say this, I'd rather be in school, but it's been a trying time.
I do think that with the pandemic, people have been forced to pay attention. You can't just go get ice cream with your friends. I mean, you can, but not in the same sense like I'm just going to ignore this because I have to go to school today. I also feel like that the pandemic has weakened people's mental health and has made maybe compassion a lot more prevalent.
And since we're sitting in the house, it probably also gets our emotions a lot more riled up than it would be if we were still living our everyday lives in school or if we were still going to work or if we could still hang out with our friends or our family as much as we would like all the time. We'd be able to ignore it.
So I have never really liked the police. I don't really pay attention to them when they come to school for that reason. But I am a logical person and I understand that not every single police officer is bad. I just hate the system that I feel like that they have to uphold.
I have four older brothers who are all Black men. I am the second youngest of seven children and I am highly, you know, affected by what happens to my brothers as Black men and their experience and even my experience as a Black female because we are also targeted. But I have always had the kind of notion of, you know, I don't respect the police. I mean, if I'm in complete danger and I need, you know, protection, I don't think that I would be opposed to the police. But as a Black person, from what I've seen from my brothers, you avoid the police at all costs.
The way that time works with quarantine is still confusing to me because I never know how long a span has happened. But when the Ahmad Aubry thing happened, I felt like it was not soon after that the George Floyd thing, even though was like a month after. But it felt like a week. It’s almost like you can't catch your breath quick enough.
I couldn't bring myself to watch the whole video because I'm just like, all right, I already know what happened. They put their knee on this man for nine minutes and they looked at him as he couldn't breathe and then he died. And I feel like that's another thing, too, you know, Black bodies dying in the street — that we can just watch a video of it like it's the ‘20s or something. And we're watching a good show. I don't know how to explain it. So I didn't really have a direct, “Oh my God!” — like crying hysterically type of — I was just like, “Dang, again, they did it again.” And then I felt an outrage.
Basically, the plan was, I thought, to like spray paint “I Can't Breathe” in the streets. I'm always up for an art project, activism and art projects. So I was excited.
And we got supplies such as signs and paint brushes and spray paint. I was very excited to grab a spray paint bottle.
We started in Market Square and then we just kind of went marching in the streets.
It was extremely peaceful. When we came in front of the area where the courthouse is at, there were an entire line of police officers with shields, with like heavy weaponry, helmets, like they're getting ready to go into war.
From what I’ve seen in other states, Pittsburgh is one of the most suited up. Like in some places, they’ve taken knees and some place they barely wear any gear and they just might have a gun on their hip for protection. For a second, I was just like, I don't know why they have to have these shields. Most of us were kids.
I had a friend who literally, she was sitting on the ground crying. One officer even started crying. One Black officer that she was expressing to him, you know, I'm out here for my father, my Black father. You know, she's like, I know that you have a Black family, like she's trying to express that to him. And she's going all the way, you know, emotional, because, you know, she has a right. She's hurt. As many of us are hurt and in pain. And I think he noticed the pain. But it's like you can’t even probably express that you care.
Then I also realized that as we were talking, none of them can look us in the eyes.
And I like to look into body language and I'm interested in what it means. And I also have a Black grandmother who raises me and is very, “Look me in my eyes when I'm talking to you,” you know.
GERALDINE AKERS: (Grandmother): “How can you get equality out of looting and violence? You can’t.”
There's definitely, I have noticed, a disconnect between the younger generation, the older generation, which makes me and her clash a lot.
Grandmother: If you’re going to argue and say that you can, I defer.
MEKKA: No, but motivation okay. When this first happened we had the conversation, right? And I said I do not understand how people burn down and steal from their own neighborhoods
Grandmother: Or any neighborhood. If they came in being radical.
MEKKA: How do you know they were being radical?
Geraldine: I don’t know I wasn’t there. But how do you know they weren’t.
MEKKA: Because although she came out of the Civil Rights era and although she knows about the Black Panthers, she knows about the Black Power movement — back then, I feel like I guess there were certain radicals, but they were hushed a lot. And they were taught to be quiet. It’s like they're very passive.
Grandmother (Geraldine Akers): “Yes, we have endured a big struggle, a big struggle, of brutality and abuse in many forms. But fighting and violence, it still does not accomplish anything. All it does is destroy and tear down. It tears down our morality as being humans. And destroying what we need in our communities.”
Certain conversations, we'll have and she'll be like, well, “You can't blame the government for that; you can't blame the white man for that.” And then I'll try to break it down to her. And it's literally not every white person, of course, but there is a system that is filled with white supremacy and allows white people to have a lot of privilege. And I tried to explain that to her. So she was not very excited, even though she knows me. Especially when the Antwon Rose thing happened and my school was actually, you know, “OK, y'all can protest.” I had to keep trying to beat into her, “I'm going to this protest.”
Because back in the day, you know, they put dogs on them and tear gassed them, as they’re doing now, rubber bullets. And it was probably a whole lot more inhumane back than it is now because they were allowed to get away with a lot more.
So she sees it as, “Oh, my God, you're gonna get injured.” I'm scared for you. And I understand that. Or, “Oh, my God, you're going to die.” And I'm scared for you. And I understand that. But first of all, I'm getting ready to be an adult. And if this is something that I choose to make a part of my life, then you're not gonna be able to monitor that for very long. You know, I tried to explain that to her. And I also told her that a lot of these tactics that they use is to scare us. So we won't want to protest because they know there's power in numbers, because they know that if we were all to come together, that a lot of this injustice and oppression would stop. And I'm like, I'm not going to get scared because I might get tear gassed.
In a sense, I didn't want to straight say burn it down. You know, I don't think that that's 100 percent right. But I have recently seen a video of Angela Davis, who was an active member of the Black Panther movement.
CLIP (ANGELA DAVIS): “And that’s another thing. When you talk about a revolution most people think violence.”
Someone asked her, what do you think about the violence to the happening? And this was in the ‘60s. And she's like, well, I don't directly think that a revolution means violence. But when a people have been beat on and oppressed and lynched, shot and raped and killed in just every possible inhumane thing, you can think of their kids being so dis-treated like complete animals, being recognized as animals for forever and still. And in 2020, being treated in this sense like an animal. You can't, you know, expect violence not to happen.
ANGELA DAVIS: “Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a Black person and live in a Black community all your life and see white policemen surrounding you. When I was living in Los Angeles, for instance, long before the situation in LA ever occurred,
I was constantly stopped. The police didn’t know who I was. But I was a Black woman and I had a natural and they thought I might be a “militant.” And when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me, whether I approve of violence? I mean that just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
I do think that my generation, and maybe it just comes from kind of young rage or, you know, how they'll say like, oh, young and mindless, but we haven't been beat down yet. We haven't been dismantled. We haven’t had our families stolen from us saying, you know, every possible thing to tear us down yet. So there is a lot of rage and there's a lot of need to revolt and I feel like it's a lot of energy.
And I mean, honestly, logically, everything is not going to change in my lifetime. Maybe that's discouraging to think of. But I definitely do think that it is a start, to start holding people accountable.
GRANDMOTHER (Geraldine Akers): We don’t even begin to see what’s beyond, that means to come. This is an awakening for all. Not only for Black, for white, Chinese, Korean, Jews. Just like the Tree of Life, the synagogue. It’s wrong. It’s wrong for terrorism. It’s wrong for discrimination. It’s wrong. And it always has been wrong and it’s even more wrong today. We’ve had enough. Because you know, not only Blacks are being discriminated. But Blacks are at the top of the list. And it needs to start at the top and work on down. We’ve had enough and enough is enough.
MEKKA: That’s your last remark?
JOURDAN HICKS: You can hear a longer conversation between Mekka and her grandmother, Geraldine, on our website, publicsource.org.
This podcast was produced by Andy Kubis and edited by Mila Sanina and Halle Stockton. If you have a story you'd like to share, get in touch with us. You can text a voice memo to 412-432-9669. Or email it to email@example.com.
Also, we'd like to ask for your support. PublicSource is an independent nonprofit newsroom in Pittsburgh. Please support local journalism and storytelling by going to a publicsource.org/donate.