OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Four Bay Area teenagers are leading the Black Lives Matter charge and have mobilized nearly 50,000 people combined against police brutality, social injustice and the killing of George Floyd.
The local grassroots movement was initiated after 19-year-olds Akil Riley and Xavier Brown watched the viral video of Minneapolis police officers killing George Floyd, an African American man who had allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill at a convenience store.
Riley texted his childhood friend, Brown, to help him organize a march from Oakland Tech High School to the Frank Ogawa Plaza.
"He said, 'I'm trying to organize a solidarity march for Tuesday and I wonder if you want to be part.' I said, 'Let's do it,'" Brown said.
The two freshmen, Brown at UCLA and Riley at Howard University, described to ABC7 News reporter Luz Pena their personal experiences with racism.
"I would say probably high school. When I went to a school called Bentley for a couple years and just the microaggressions -- like seeing how the difference in people from the way I was raised. They grew up on the other side of the tunnel. It's a different social dynamic there and more wealthy rich White kids. I felt a lot of microaggressions. And just like, this is a different thought process," described Riley.
Brown remembers getting accused of shoplifting when he was 11 years old. "I was walking out and there was this white woman who didn't work there who came in and said, 'why are you stealing this? That's not good, you like it? Like, you have to put it back.' I was like, 'I paid for this.' It took the clerk to say, 'Ma'am, can you please leave him alone? He paid for this.' The fact that she thought that I didn't, you know... just really says something. I highly doubt that if it was a white child that she would have stopped him. Just small things like that."
The Oakland residents have been friends since they were 4 years old.
"We were at pre-K at Saint Leo the Great School and Akil was crying. He was crying because his mom had left. It was like me, Josiah and Trenton that came and comforted him," described Brown.
They shared with us about how they want their message of youth empowerment to make a lasting impact in their community.
"There are a lot of things going on right now. In West Oakland with climate injustice, which is a big thing. Also just the homelessness crisis we have, but I really want to see our community coming together. I still see a lot of love, tradition and culture. I look around and see beauty in this," described Riley.
While showing us around De Fremery Park in West Oakland, Riley described how the Black Panther movement impacted his life from an early age.
"De Fremery Park is home to Bubby Hutton. That's the youngest Black Panther. He was shot and killed by police. But, you know there's so much history to this and so much significance of this and in the context of the Bay Area in the context of the struggle for people, black rights and activism," said Riley.
Across from Oakland's Lake Merritt, Brown reflected on his life as a Black young man.
"My mom is an attorney. She has always taught me, showing me just a small percentage of the cases... this country thinks that it's a disadvantage being Black," described Brown.
When we asked him if he considered himself an ordinary teenager after organizing one of the biggest marches in that city, he said, "I would say this, I've never felt like a normal 19-year-old. I've always tried to differ myself from other people, whether it be in leadership, acting, you know, film, clothing. I've always tried to differ on myself. I wouldn't say I feel like a normal 19-year-old. But I would say that any 19-year-old can do what I have done."
Through social media and word of mouth, Brown and Riley mobilized 15,000 people against police brutality. They had a list of guidelines requiring participants to restrain from violence and confrontation with police, wear a face mask and social distance.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the teens for the peaceful march.
"We also saw a beautiful peaceful protest yesterday... 15,000 Oaklanders marching, demonstrating their desire for a just system and a demand for change and racial justice. It was organized by Oakland youth, supported by families. And we are very proud of that beautiful demonstration of a demand for change coming from Oakland, California."
"I just think it was crazy to me, when I started seeing people in those houses back there. They were opening their windows and I started to see people in the street behind all of this being filled out. We thought this space really is not enough space for everybody," Brown reflected on the march from the steps of Oakland Tech High.
Luz Pena: "Why do you think that more youth are rising up right now?"
Xavier Brown: "We are just tired of being tired."
Akil Riley: "Because we have the power through social media... and we're more educated. We're more aware of what's going on right now and you got to say something."
Several days after the Oakland march, a second group of Bay Area teenagers was inspired to mobilize thousands on the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
Tiana Day, 17, and Mimi Zoila, 19, went from complete strangers to close friends over the Black Lives Matter protest that attracted thousands.
"I've heard one place said 20,000. Someone said over 50,000. Someone else said over 100,000. I don't know about that, but maybe. You just have no idea and 4 miles straight of people were body-to-body. There was not a lot of social distancing on the other side, but everyone was wearing a mask," said Zoila and Day.
Day was participating at a local march when she came across Zoila's Instagram post looking for a Black leader to lead the Golden Gate Bridge march.
"I'm scrolling through Instagram at the same time, you know, just kind of checking my feed waiting for things to pick up. I saw there was protests going to be held at the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was like, 'this is going to be so cool! Like a Golden Gate Bridge protests,'" said Day.
Zoila had taken out a permit via the GoldenGate.org website for the event but did not feel like it was "her place" to lead it.
"Well I'm obviously not part of the Black community. I'm white. So, I think it was just being disrespectful. I think white people's voices should never be louder than those who are actually being oppressed," said Zoila.
Minutes after her Instagram post, Day replied and offered to lead the march. They projected for 300 to join them, but thousands showed up blocking traffic and covering the bridge with signs and chants for hours.
"Before this, I was just a normal teenager. I was doing whatever my friends did. I was not involved in politics. I was not involved in any kind of activism. I was very just doing whatever, like getting through the day. Thinking, 'I can't wait to graduate, and can't wait to get out of San Ramon,'" said Day.
After watching the video of George Floyds killing, Day said, "I just feel like this opened my eyes. I grew up here my whole life. I feel like in some ways my parents sheltered me because they thought, you know, we've made it to this nice community. She won't face the type of adversity like my dad did when he was growing up in Richmond, and my mom grew up in South San Francisco. They come from completely different environments than where I am from. I feel like they thought since I grew up here, I wouldn't have to face those problems, but they still affect every single Black student in America."
Prior to the mobilizing thousands, Day used social media to ignite a frank conversion about racism and bullying at her high school. She began calling out students who were using derogatory and racist slurs.
"The first one was honestly one of my really close friends. She was a freshman. She made a video saying a racial slur. She said the "N" word with the hard "R" and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this is like my little sister figure. She literally came to my house all the time. I would give her rides after school. I helped her make the cheer team. She was super close to me.' I was like, the problem is not that she's racist but it's that she doesn't understand and she's not educated. She doesn't know what the word behind this and what the meaning behind this word is," said Day.
Luz Pena: "When was the first time that you felt discriminated against?"
Tiana Day: "It was in third grade. My third grade teacher actually."
"She asked me in front of the whole class: 'Did you do your multiplication facts?' And I was like, 'No, I couldn't study them with my parents last night. They were both at work.' She asked the other Black kid in the class, 'Did you study your multiplication facts' and he said, 'No. My parents were at work as well.' She didn't ask anyone else the question. She just said, 'OK, well you two are going to stay in during recess and you're going to stay in during lunch. You have to practice your multiplication facts, and forgive my language she literally said word for word like verbatim, 'they (parents) must want you guys to grow up to be retarded.'"
Day says she remembers that experience vividly and still keeps in touch with the other student in her class.
Luz Pena: "What would you say to anybody who wants to be a better ally?"
Mimi Zoila: "I think a big part is opening up and allowing yourself to do research. Don't be afraid to ask questions because that's how you learn. People are very ignorant and they're afraid to be vulnerable and afraid to educate themselves. A lot of people don't understand. People are saying 'All Lives Matter,' but it's a deeper meaning. 'Black Lives Matter' is specifically to the Black race. It doesn't have to do with other races. It is only targeting that race because they are specifically being oppressed."
The two friends hope their march inspires other young people to organize.
"I hope people realize that you can come from such different backgrounds and you can grow up in different areas, but if you have the same common goal, same values and morals, you can really create friendship with anyone," said Zoila.
"A bridge signifies bridging two places. It's two things together and closing a gap. We want that to be the gap of equality and we want to make sure that we are taking people who weren't educated in the past and educating them. We want to create that bridge to reach people and create a safer society," said Day.
Riley and Brown continue to encourage other young organizers to rally for justice.
"I think it takes everybody. I mean, no matter if you're young or old. I think it takes just humanity in general. I don't think it's up to us, but I think it's up to everyone that is still on the earth to a fight for what is right," said Brown and Riley added, "Somebody said Oakland's proud of you and that was really what touched me."
Luz Pena: "If there was a way that you could describe this movement what would it be?"
Akil Riley: "Fearless"
Xavier Brown: "A fearless revolution of the youth... of the Black youth."
What are they up to now?
Akil Riley is part of the Black Youth People's Liberation nonprofit. After the Oakland march, he's been invited to speak at tech companies about the Black Lives Matter movement. He's also staying active by participating at protests around the Bay Area. Aside from the movement, he can be found in his home studio creating music. He will be a sophomore at Howard University in the fall. You can follow him on Instagram at @akilosopher.
Tiana Day recently organized a second march in Sacramento. She's been invited to speak at multiple companies about equality and social justice. Day is planning to take a gap year from school to focus her energy on her nonprofit Youth Advocates for Change. She is raising funds to provide scholarships for Black youth and transforming school curriculum to reflect Black history and equality. Day was recently recognized by the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women as a Youth Activist for BLM. You can follow her on Instagram at @Tiana.Nicole.
Mimi Zoila is a board member of the Youth Advocates for Change nonprofit. She continues her efforts as an ally and will return to Orange Coast College in the Fall. You can follow her on Instagram at @MimiZoila.
Xavier Brown is planning a meeting with the Oakland Police Department to influence police reform in his city. He's been a vocal speaker and participant of various tech companies events focused on the Black Lives Matter movement. Brown started the clothing brand Brightside. He is also acting and producing local films to influence positive change in his community. He will return to UCLA in the fall. You can follow him on Instagram at @XTheSavant.