The show goes on for youth in a spontaneous Pride parade

youth-parade.jpgWhat do you do when you love a parade, and it’s been canceled? If you were among 125 youth and young adults at General Synod in Cleveland on Saturday morning, you gather up your panacea of rainbow-colored umbrellas, reach into your bag of spontaneity and march anyway.

Undaunted by the fact that they wouldn’t be participating in the canceled Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival, they put songs in their hearts and umbrellas over their heads and got busy creating their own organic event.

“This really speaks to our interdependence on one another,” said Debbie Kirk, director of youth and young adult ministries in the Connecticut Conference. “This wasn’t on the schedule, and we did this.”

Led by the choreography and music direction of Connecticut Conference youth leaders Anne Hughes and Jolie Rocke Brown, the young people fell into six lines of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet umbrellas in the open area adjacent to the Youth Hall at the Cleveland Convention Center.

Hughes surveyed the group and moved deftly into organizational mode. “OK, we need a team leader for the blue. Emily, you got that? Good. Brandon’s got the yellow. Josiah, you take the red.” After a short pause, “We’re way short on the green, let’s get some more of those over here.”

Soon, the group set into motion a colorful front-to-back “wave” of umbrellas, chanting “Black lives matter!” and singing several rounds of I Can’t Breathe, a justice anthem made popular by several high-profile shootings by police:

I can hear my neighbor calling
I can’t breathe
Now I’m in the struggle
And I won’t leave

With Hughes and Brown toting a rainbow-striped “Black and Brown Lives Matter” banner at the head of the pack, marchers left the Youth Hall, snaking through the aisles of the Exhibit Hall, with shoppers and exhibitors smiling and reaching for phones to take photos. At one point, the group broke into Amazing Grace; at another, 17-year-old Josiah Strickland of Hartford, Conn., led the group in We Shall Overcome.

After a second “wave” into the concourse next to the Exhibit Hall, the parade pushed up the steps and out the Convention Center’s front door. A mild drizzle fell as the group proceeded two-thirds of the way around the building, down the sidewalk to the Global Center for Health Innovation. This third “wave” was met warmly by bystanders.

Returning to the Convention Center, marchers turned down the long hall lined by volunteers registering Synod guests and delegates. Moments later, the torrential rain began outside again.

“I had no clue we were going to be doing this,” said youth member Rachel Hodgins of Sioux City, Iowa. “I was bummed that the Pride parade was canceled, but our own march was amazing. It impacted a lot of people.”

The event marked the demonstration debut of 12-year-old Betsy Eastman of UCC in Centreville, Md. “It was good to make the people happy and excited.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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