About 350 Rocky River High students held a unity march outside the Mint Hill school Friday, continuing a third week of actions to support immigrants in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
But while the last two Fridays brought disruptive walkouts – one that closed South Meck early, one that saw 100 Garinger students march seven miles to another campus – this week was marked by energetic but orderly events that turned the nation’s immigration turmoil into a civics lesson.
“I think it’s important for them to get their voices heard, but they have to do it the right way,” said Rocky River Principal Ericia Turner. She worked with teachers and students to plan an event that included lessons throughout the week, culminating with the marching band leading students around the school. They carried flags and sported gear from many nations, from Mexico and Honduras to Ethiopia and Cambodia, with American flags flying prominently in the mix.
On Monday, nearby Independence High held a sit-in in support of immigrants, which also drew hundreds of students.
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This nation is going through a lot of struggle and we need to be together.
Rocky River student Darlene Juarez
The rash of school demonstrations followed the Feb. 16 national “Day Without an Immigrant,” which drew thousands of people, including CMS students, to march through uptown Charlotte. They were protesting reports of increased arrests of undocumented immigrants in the wake of orders from President Donald Trump.
Rocky River was among several schools where students attempted to continue the action the next day. But the handful of students who tried to walk out of Rocky River were stopped by security, leading to anger and frustration, teachers and students say.
“It kind of failed and it backfired,” said 16-year-old Yoselin Lazo, who is from El Salvador. She said she apologized to Turner on behalf of her classmates. She and a handful of fellow ROTC students worked with Turner and Spanish teacher Ebenezer Lancerio to plan a better event.
It morphed from an immigration rights protest to a unity rally, celebrating students of different cultures who come together as Americans. Students who wanted to participate had to sign up. They were encouraged to wear clothing that celebrated their origins.
This is not a protest. This is a unity declaration, because we are all in this together.
Rocky River Principal Ericia Turner
About an hour before school let out, students representing countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia streamed out of the building, waving flags and chanting, “Say it loud and clear: All immigrants are welcome here!”
Turner walked with them, capturing the event on her phone and wearing a “Be the change you want to see in the world” T-shirt. Her boss, Nancy Brightwell, marched in support too.
After a walk around the campus, the students packed into the auditorium. They broke into the kind of cheers associated with a championship sports team when three students took the stage: Lazo wrapped in the flag of El Salvador, Darlene Juarez in the Mexican flag and Anthony Vo in the Stars and Stripes.
“Our roots are beautiful and it doesn’t matter where you’re from: You are loved and appreciated,” Lazo said.
Jose Hernandez-Paris of Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition urged students to contact their senators to keep fighting for immigrants.
“All of you, regardless of whether you were born here or crossed the border yesterday, you are an American,” he said.