(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON — They gathered Thursday evening dressed in all black. More than 80 students from multiple Manatee County high schools arrived at the Bradenton Riverwalk skate park with one message: Black lives do matter.
Organized by students, the rally was a continuation of earlier showings of protest after an issue arose Wednesday when a student brought a Confederate flag onto the Manatee High School campus as part of Spirit Week. The presence of the flag, which was confiscated, upset many.
“Everybody immediately got offended because there were multiple times where there was harassment going around, and there were racial slurs,” said Selena Torres, a sophomore at Manatee High. “We’re here today just to support (the) Black Lives Matter (movement).”
The rally was filled with high energy as students chatted, snapped selfies and chanted. Several motorists honked in support.
At one point, a young man on a bicycle approached the group. He said people fought for the Confederate flag and listened as they explained what else took place Wednesday at Manatee High.
“The boys with the flag took it as a joke,” Torres told him. Others chimed in and said there were racial slurs hurled at other students.
“I’m not here to hate,” he said politely. “I’m just saying there’s nothing wrong with the Confederate flag.”
The mood turned light as several students engaged in a dance-off at the bottom of a skate bowl. Olivia Lee, a sophomore at Palmetto High School, described the experience as amazing.
“I think it’s showing that blacks can come together and we aren’t just what everyone says we are,” she said. “We’re not thugs. We’re not running the streets … We do care. We care about our lives.”