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In Manchester, two 13-year-olds find own way to protest for Black lives: ‘We have just as big of a say’

Sofia Gutierrez has seen her share of reaction to Manchester’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, from obscene gestures, to trash being thrown at protesters, to passersby yelling toward the group to get a job.

The negativity hasn’t stopped her from demonstrating on Main Street on a daily basis for most of the past two months. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired her to start a demonstration of her own, one that she hopes will grow in a hurry.

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It might sound like a lot for a 13-year-old who is about to enter eighth grade at North Carroll Middle School. But Sofia doesn’t seem deterred. She said she wants people to know it’s OK to make a stand on issues that matter, and one close to her is standing at school for the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I quote the pledge, ‘For liberty and justice for all,’ and if there was liberty and justice for all then George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others would be alive right now and sitting in their homes,” Sofia said Monday evening in front of North Carroll Middle, where she and friend Ayden Buchanan, a fellow 13-year-old Manchester resident, talked about why they aim to get schoolmates involved. “But there’s not liberty and justice for all, and they are dead. So that is a lie.”

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Floyd and Taylor, both Black, each died at the hands of police this year — him while being arrested and her while asleep in her home — sparking a reinvigorated movement for racial justice and against police brutality.

Sofia created a poster saying she’ll be demonstrating at school this year — whenever that might be — with a silent protest by not standing during the pledge. “When the Pledge of Allegiance turns on in the morning, we will sit down and kneel and not say a word,” Sofia’s poster reads, “nor will we put any hand on our heart. We will stand against racism and will help justice for equality and Black lives.”

Sofia said she reached out to Ayden via text, and the friends soon teamed up to start their own protest idea.

“I’m just trying to help her, and show other people that we can sit,” said Ayden, who attended Manchester’s Black Lives Matter protest downtown Monday evening with her friend. “A lot of my friends are scared about that, because people say it’s disrespectful. I want to show them that we can sit, and it is our right to sit.”

The girls say they sent Sofia’s photo to friends and classmates, asking them to join their cause, and a handful of people agreed. The hope is that more North Carroll Middle students help the numbers grow, the girls said.

North Carroll Middle School eighth graders Ayden Buchanan, right, and Sofia Gutierrez, both 13, join Randy Miller in a Black Lives Matter protest against racism in Manchester Monday, August 10, 2020.
North Carroll Middle School eighth graders Ayden Buchanan, right, and Sofia Gutierrez, both 13, join Randy Miller in a Black Lives Matter protest against racism in Manchester Monday, August 10, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Kathy Gutierrez said her daughter’s exposure to Manchester’s Black Lives Matter rallies led to her wanting to do something on her own.

“The first time when she saw the protesters up there and she said she wanted to go join them, I was proud. Shocked but proud,” Gutierrez said. “We were just driving home and she saw them there, and at dinner she said she wanted to go join them. ... I told her, ‘If you want to go protest, go make a sign.’ So it was totally all her. And she has been reaching out to friends with this, it’s all her.”

Sofia said she doesn’t read or watch much news to keep up on current events, but has her share of knowledge about Black Lives Matter from attending local demonstrations. Driving by the Manchester event each day inspired her to act, she said.

“I just thought that there are all these adults out there that are supporting this, and I think that there needs to be some teenagers out there too that are also supporting ... what’s right,” Sofia said. “Black lives actually do matter, and teenagers aren’t just people who like to fight with their parents. We can also make a change in the world. We have just as big of a say as adults do.”

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