By Paige Atwell
They say that young people are shaping the future, and Williamson County teens are certainly no exception. After attending a Nashville protest in June, Centennial High School students Verona Collins, 16; Beka Underhill, 16; Analiese Hardgrave, 17; Genevieve Phillips, 16; Natalie Cicero, 15; Sivani Kasibhotla, 16 and Celeste Phillips, 14, started a group chat to discuss current events.
“We knew we wanted to do something locally in Franklin to educate our community and bring about real change,” said Sivani. “We hadn’t seen that much being done in Franklin and we thought that a memorial would be a good way to not only amplify black voices in our community but to remember and honor all of those who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality and systemic racism,” added Celeste.
With that, the girls created their official Instagram page, “Franklin Teens for Justice,” and promoted their first event: Say Their Names Memorial. With over 100 people in attendance, the June 17th event, held at Harlinsdale Farm, was a success. Social distancing and masks were strongly encouraged to keep everyone safe.
“We were shocked that it wasn’t just our parents in attendance,” said Beka. “We were so happy and excited to see over 100 faces...most of them, people we had never met before.”
While they’re grateful for the success of their first event, Franklin Teens for Justice knows that their work is far from done. As an organization, they hope to continue to inspire direct change in their community and educate as many people as they can. “This is a humanitarian issue and we all find it disgusting that our brothers and sisters are being killed and oppressed every day simply because of the color of their skin,” said Genevieve. “We know that we are all in a position of privilege because of our skin color, so we want to do all we can to not only raise awareness and make change, but to amplify black voices and show our support to all of our black brothers and sisters.”
Franklin Teens for Justice recognize that young people are the future, so it’s extremely important for them to be involved in this movement to help inspire changes they want to see. However, they also want to reach older generations with their message to encourage them to do their part as well. “While it is extremely important that younger people get involved right now, a lot of us cannot vote which means it is hard for us to make direct change, and impossible for us to make a change in the ballot box,” shared Genevieve. “It is important that older generations make use of their vote and cast their ballots for people that are actually going to make a difference in office.”
If you’re looking for ways to get involved, Franklin Teens for Justice plans to hold many more local events where anyone can participate. They are also encouraging people to post on social media, donate to organizations and use resources to educate themselves on racism.
“It is important for everyone to be involved in this, and Williamson County is not an exception,” said Celeste. “If we can make a direct change in our community, even on a small scale, then Williamson County can make an impact on the rest of Tennessee and around the country.”
To learn more about Franklin Teens for Justice or sign their petition, visit their Instagram page @franklinteensforjustice.