Kaden Knight wanted to be a Black Panther growing up. His favorite activist is Huey P. Newton, the cofounder of the Black Panther Party. Knight recently graduated from Charlotte’s Myers Park High School.
Now Knight and his best friend Cameron Parker, who are 18 and 19 years old, respectively, are leading hundreds of Charlotteans protesting against police brutality. Young people have made up a majority of protesters flooding the city’s streets and parks over the past week and a half as they call for change in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
“Everybody’s pretty surprised by how old we are,” said Parker, a fellow alum of Myers Park.
On Saturday, Parker and Knight held a march that started in Freedom Park and traveled through the Myers Park neighborhood. They also organized one in Myers Park and South Park earlier in the week. Knight said they were inspired to start their own events after attending one in uptown.
“My great-grandfather was angry. My grandfather ... my father ... and now I’m angry. And I’m tired of it. I don’t want my kids to grow up to be angry. We can’t fight anger with anger or violence with violence, we’ve gotta fight it with love and peace,” Knight said.
They chose Myers Park and South Park because they are predominantly affluent and white, Knight said.
“We know we have to bring a peaceful confrontation to the people that don’t generally hear us. We need to get that dialog started.”
Knight and Parker created an Instagram account called Charlotte Liberation Party to share information about upcoming protests and places to make donations. It gained more than 1,200 followers in about a week.
Parker said he’s been urging Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials not to police in schools like Myers Park. He was concerned when officers used tear gas on uptown protesters last week.
“After what they did Wednesday night, I can’t really agree with having the same people who hurt and brutalized my friends protect them when they go back to school,” Parker said.
Knight said as a child, his parents didn’t allow him to go into certain stores with a backpack or walk around alone in specific neighborhoods -- things his white friends could do.
He didn’t realize until he got older it was because he’s black.
“I’m probably the least threatening person I know. But due to my skin color, I’m a threat,” Knight said. “Basically, playing with a bad hand in poker all the time.”
Knight and Parker said they have been “blown away” by the support they have received for their Charlotte protests and plan to schedule more in the future.
Parker is scheduled to return to college at North Carolina School of the Arts in August. But if the coronavirus pandemic keeps him in Charlotte, he said he’ll continue protesting.
“People, they get hype for a second and then the hype dies down. The hashtag stops,” Knight said.
“We can’t let this stop this time. Silence has been the downfall. That’s why 400 years of oppression and racism has existed -- due to silence. We can’t stop talking about it now.”
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