Alex Sierra advocates for justice, leads Champaign protest

Organizer+Drake+Materre%2C+a+graduating+senior+in+the+college+of+AHS%2C+offers+closing+words+at+the+Champaign+County+Courthouse+during+the+Black+Lives+Matter+protest+on+June+1.

Quentin Shaw

Organizer Drake Materre, a graduating senior in the college of AHS, offers closing words at the Champaign County Courthouse during the Black Lives Matter protest on June 1.

By Meghan Lyons, Special Sections Editor

Since the death of George Floyd, protests have swept across the nation from coast to coast. This past Monday, Champaign witnessed one of its biggest protests yet, with thousands of people filling the streets. Incoming senior and political science major, Alex Sierra, was one of the leaders in the protest. According to Sierra, the protest at first was hardly a demonstration.

“Coming from the Black Lives Matter protest in Chicago on Saturday, I had high standards for Champaign,” Sierra said. “When it first initially started — it only lasted for about 45 minutes. It ended so early — it was like a rally.”

Initially, Sierra was disappointed in the energy of the protest, stating he “was thinking to myself that this rally was not enough.” Instead of stopping with the rest, the senior along with his friends decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I asked my friends, ‘Do we turn this thing up?’” Sierra said.

According to Sierra, he and his friends marched the streets to keep things going.

“There was about 4-5 of us, no permit — just us, and we all took to the streets,” Sierra said. As the group marched, more and more people continued to join.

“We made this something bigger,” said Sierra. “The Champaign police cleared the way for us without questioning. I greatly appreciate them for that.”

Once the movement arrived to the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Green Street, protesters knelt in honor of George Floyd. As Sierra looked around, he noticed some people were choosing to sit instead of kneeling. Frustrated, Sierra had decided to use his voice and to speak up.

“I couldn’t help but get frustrated that people were deciding to choose comfort. So, I took the megaphone and called out to the crowd, ‘If you are able to take a knee — then do it, even if it’s uncomfortable.’ What George Floyd went through was incredibly uncomfortable.’”

Sierra was worried that if he did not speak up, nobody would.

“If I didn’t say that, I don’t think anyone else would. And it had to be said,” Sierra said.

For a long time, Sierra has struggled to find his voice to speak out against injustice. According to Sierra, the political science student finally realized the power of speaking out against injustice.

“For most of my life, I have had the privilege of not experiencing racism as much as my other black and brown friends. But last spring semester in one of my political science classes, I had one of my major experiences,” Sierra said.

After a debate in class, Sierra experienced a derogatory comment from another student in his class.

“I couldn’t help myself but walk out of the class. I felt so stripped — I didn’t know how to react,” Sierra said.

Sierra’s professor followed him, and stressed the importance of sticking up to injustice.

“After the talk, I mustered the energy to go in there and attempted to ignore the student,” Sierra said. “It was definitely an experience — and that time I really realized the importance of using your voice.”

Since then, Sierra has realized the power of advocacy.

“Time after time, I started to advocate — it began to make me think, ‘Is this something I’m good at? Is this something I can do? And I realized that it is,” Sierra said.

Outside of activism, Sierra is involved in Phi Beta Psi fraternity, an African American fraternity on campus. Last spring semester, Sierra ran for the president of the Illinois Student Government.

All over the nation, students of color are continuing to find their voices to speak out against the racial injustice that runs rampant in America. Voices like Alex Sierra’s are the foundation of change — and they are needed more than ever.

 

Meghan is a junior in LAS.

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