Luke and Ford Nissenholtz haven’t been in their Clayton School District classrooms for several months. Last week, though, the brothers got a real-world education in the First Amendment, human rights and equality.
Their father, Todd, took Luke, 14, and Ford, 10, to participate in a protest march through Frontenac and Ladue on June 5. It was one of the many St. Louis-area demonstrations that called for police reform and racial equality in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.
The Nissenholtzes were among the Jewish participants in the student-led march. Like many in the crowd, they carried “Black Lives Matter” banners. Todd Nissenholtz said he hoped his sons got a valuable lesson from the experience.
“I want them to learn something from it,” he said. “It’s important for them to grow up and understand that equality is important. I think it’s great that people are coming out to march peacefully and to speak with one voice.”
The march was organized by recent Ladue High School graduate Victoria Neal. She said the location—starting at the St. Louis County Library on Lindbergh Boulevard and Clayton Road—was chosen because it’s home to powerful and affluent people.
“We feel like this area will bring the change because this is where the power is,” Neal said. “Not as many people with a lot of money live in North County or the city of St. Louis, so we have to take it to their backyard.
“We are here to support groups like Black Lives Matter,” she continued. “I hope there are changes not only in legislation but also in policing throughout the area, and throughout the nation.”
Neal began planning the march just four days prior, but it quickly gained momentum, with an estimated attendance of nearly 1,000. She primarily used social media to get the word out. That’s how Anna Lynn and Maddy Cowen, two Jewish teenage friends, learned about the event.
“I wanted to participate because we need change in our community and in the world,” said Lynn, 17, a student at Ladue High School.
“I want to help make a difference in the community and be active in a force for change,” said Cowen, 17, a student at MICDS and a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth.
Lynn carried a banner that read “Racism is a Global Pandemic.” Cowen’s banner read “White silence is white compliance.”
A key outcome Neal hoped to achieve was to raise awareness about police brutality. The march was conducted with the cooperation and protection of area police, who accompanied the marchers. As the crowd quickly assembled at the library, Ladue Police Chief Ken Andreski Jr., and his staff greeted participants and organizers.
Among the marchers was a Ladue Middle School representative, social studies teacher Quentin Alimaiu. He carried a banner with religious symbols including a menorah and Star of David. Alimaiu said it came directly from his classroom and carried a message of equality.
“I have this because my students need to understand that whatever color or background we are or that we subscribe to, at the end of the day, we’re still all connected and we have to work together to make this whole thing work,” he said. “I found something that represented multiple sexualities, religions, genders, and I wanted to show it today, because it’s not just about black men. We lost Breonna Taylor, too, and today would have been her birthday. We have black trans people being assaulted. If we can’t all come together, it will never work out.”
Another Jewish marcher was Jewish Light 2019 Unsung Hero Julie Williams. She is especially familiar with persecution as a longtime docent at the Holocaust Museum.
“I think it’s time we ended racism and injustice,” Williams said. “It’s intolerable—there has to be a change and I want to add my voice to the call for change.”