HAVERHILL — Three Haverhill High School students are urging change in their city and on Saturday, they're inviting the community to join them.
Gretchen Fieldhouse, 14, Alice Marvin, 16, and Ambi Mayhew, 16, are organizing Haverhill's Black Lives Matter protest, which will start Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Haverhill stadium. The teens say the youth-led protest will be peaceful — and something the community can be proud of.
"For me, a protest is an expression of objection and disapproval," said Ambi, who is African-American. "That's really the whole Black Lives Matter movement. We're not going to be like the other cities who riot, target small businesses and destroy them. That's not our intent. All we're trying to do is bring awareness that black lives are at risk when it (comes to) racial profiling from the cops and racism in general in the justice system."
Gretchen said the group plans to gather near the stadium on Lincoln Avenue at 12:30 p.m., where Calvary Baptist Church Pastor Kenneth Young will lead participants in prayer at 12:45 p.m. before the march begins at 12:55 p.m. The march will go from Lincoln Avenue to Ginty Boulevard, ending at GAR Park across the street from City Hall. Youth and adult marshals will be stationed along the route to monitor the crowd, Gretchen said. Haverhill police have been notified of the march, she said.
"We want to make sure it's a peaceful protest," she said. "We want this to be youth-led to show people that if we can do it, adults can follow in our footsteps. We want to be mature about this."
At GAR Park, several speakers will offer views on the Black Lives Matter movement and their experiences as people of color, Gretchen said.
There will also be a period of silence lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Gretchen said, to represent the length of time that a Minneapolis police officer's knee was on the neck of George Floyd before he died on May 25.
"All lives do matter, but right now, the black community needs help saying 'black lives do matter,'" Ambi said. "For me, (saying) 'all lives matter' takes away from the Black Lives Matter movement. Yes, all lives do matter, but right now we're focused on how black lives matter because we're mainly at risk now."
Alice, the third organizer of Saturday's event, is lending support to the Black Lives Matter movement as a white ally. She and Ambi hope to not only inspire change among their peers but also at the city government level.
"In Haverhill it's the mayor (James Fiorentini) who's in charge of firing officers, but he doesn't know them like the chief of police (Alan DeNaro) does," Alice said. "The chief of police should be in charge of hiring and firing his own officers. If he knew someone was volatile, he could step in before anything got too bad."
Gretchen said the protest on Saturday will hopefully provide an outlet for young people looking to help the cause but unsure about how to do so. A booth at GAR Park will offer resources on how to support black-owned businesses, for example, according to organizers.
"I chose to start this because I wanted to be a good ally," said Gretchen, who is white. "I see what's happening in the world and I want to help. I may not experience police brutality because of the color of my skin, but I can still do my part."