WASHINGTON – Speaking in front of large crowds is nothing new to 12-year-old activist Asean Johnson. However, speaking at a time where racial tensions run high in America made it a little tougher this past weekend.
“To see that I don’t even know if I can make it past the age that I am with everything that’s happened,” Asean said during his speech, desperately fighting to get his words out while sobbing.
His message highlighted the recent police shootings in response to the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile within 24 hours of each other.
Asean spoke at the Save Our Schools Coalition People’s March for Public Education & Social Justice rally in Washington D.C. Hundreds of educators and activists came together to demonstrate and march for education reform and racial equality.
Immediately following the speech, Asean’s mother, Shoneice Reynolds, held him tightly in her arms with bloodshot red eyes dripping of tears. The sun formed a radiant spotlight around them as they hugged in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the 90-degree afternoon.
“I want to see him become a man too. I want to see him grow up,” Reynolds said. “I want to see him continue to make a huge difference within this world and the impact within this world. And I want to see a safer America for all of our children.”
Asean was greeted with high fives and warm hugs after walking off the stage. Some of the audience members recognized him from his previous activism when he participated in a movement to prevent four schools in Chicago from closing.
As a soon-to-be seventh grader, Asean says his career aspirations include becoming a scientist, poet, politician, basketball or football player. He added that his late great grandfather, who was active in advocating for justice in Chicago, never got to see him speak but always encouraged him to voice the truth.
“I just feel that we need to fight for everything, not just education,” Asean said. “Because social justice and black lives matter.”
Photo at top: Friends and family of Asean Johnson join him on stage during his emotional speech to show support. (Hannah Gebresilassie/Medill News Service)