Recent Graduates Are Protesting Police Brutality in Their Caps and Gowns
Amongst the crowds of people who have taken to the nation’s streets to stand up against police brutality, some advocates have been spotted wearing something non-traditional for a protest: a graduation cap and gown. As reported in a recent Refinery29 article from author Connie Wang, this trend has circulated through viral photos as more college and high school grads have joined in to make a statement about the future, education, and black youth in America.
Deveonte Joseph, an upcoming high school graduate from St. Paul, was photographed in his cap and gown against the backdrop of police floodlights by photographer Nathan Aguirre. The photograph made its way around the internet, with Aguirre stating that it was meant to, “speak to America’s pure potential as well as our failure to fulfill the promises we make to our youth.” For Joseph, this is as much of a graduation as he will get – a let-down in expectations for a first-generation high school grad who has worked hard to get to this point and wanted to walk across a stage. Joseph stated, “When I put on the gown, I felt like I really accomplished something big. My brother always told me that not a lot of African Americans even reach my age. It’s a big accomplishment to graduate high school.”
Many protesters choosing to wear their cap and gown are doing so as a way of both standing out and representing the future. An enduring image that the leaders of the future are amongst the protesters, or that, no matter what, students will continue to excel and achieve, even in the face of oppression. Louis Michael of San Francisco commented, “To stand in front of a line of police officers in riot gear, with my fist in the air, and my cap and gown… I felt powerful.”
Author Connie Wang raises the point in the article that, for many, graduations can be an empty promise. One that promises a bright future to young black students if they work hard and stay on the path – something that can be easily forgotten in the many ways in which the system is hardwired towards oppression. Wang writes, “For Black Americans, this contract has always been crooked. What’s unwritten and unspoken has always upended any promise made.”
Joseph is graduating. He represents the future of our nation. He cannot afford to go to college just yet, but has been planning for years and is currently holding a fundraiser to get started. He is committed to inspiring others and creating art. Our future is in good hands.