Back home this summer in Lake City, S.C., a friend came to Christian Hanna ’23 with an idea — organizing a peaceful community demonstration to celebrate the lives of Black Americans killed by the police and to spotlight the issue of police brutality.
Hanna jumped at the chance. He viewed the demonstration in part as a way to show young people in his hometown that they have a voice they can use to create transformational change.
“A lot of times as youth we feel as though we can’t do anything, and it is reinforced a lot of times by those older than us,” Hanna says. “So our goal was to show that we can organize, we can complete a successful event, and we have the power to do something.”
They did. Hanna and his friend, Jeremiah Thames, who is still in high school, held the demonstration on Juneteenth, launching it with social-distanced sign-making at a park, then marching (the mayor was among the participants) to a memorial that honors Ronald E. McNair, a Black astronaut who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. Hanna and Thames spoke, as did two state legislators and other notables.
Hanna estimates participants numbered more than 100, a good showing for a community of roughly 12,500 people, and he’s pleased with how the event turned out — despite racist backlash on social media.
The racist comments came after local media coverage of the protest. Hanna, who had been focused on putting together a successful event, hadn’t spent time bracing for that kind of onslaught against him and the other young organizers. “To have these grown adults saying all these negative things about children, it just reminds me how bad the situation is in America and has been this way since the beginning, so it shouldn’t be anything new, but it still hurts,” Hanna says.
Yet the backlash affirmed to him that he had done the right thing in organizing the protest. “It seems like there’s obviously something there that they don’t want to accept or that they don’t want to see within themselves,” he points out.
As he and Thames worked on the demonstration, they were inspired to create the Pee Dee Black Youth Alliance (Pee Dee is the region in which Lake City is located), an organization they are structuring so it can continue after its founders move on. The plan is for the alliance to sponsor a fair of historically black colleges and universities before Hanna returns to College Hill in August.
Aiming for law school, Hanna plans to double major in government and theatre. His passions include making music, and even more, writing and performing poetry. And, of course, anti-racism activism. Hanna fell in love with Hamilton on his first visit, and he’s eager to get back, where he wants to advocate for strong College support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“So I will definitely be a loud voice on campus when I get back, and already am really trying to speak up as much as possible now from here,” Hanna says from Lake City.