About 100 people walked the five blocks between Topeka High School and the Kansas Statehouse on Thursday afternoon to proclaim their opposition to racism.
The march was organized by Topeka High students and the YWCA of Northeast Kansas. Organizers began recruiting students to march as they left school Thursday.
“This is a large school with an active student body,” said Joan Wagnon, interim CEO of the area YWCA.
The march was aimed at what Wagnon called an “institutional racist mindset” that leads to higher incarceration and unemployment rates in minority communities.
“These kids see this happening and know it’s out there,” she said.
Julia Howell, a student organizer, said in statements before the march that racism remains an issue in Topeka and at her high school. Despite diversity at Topeka High, Howell said racial stereotypes still are present and racial slurs can be heard.
The racially diverse group of marchers carried signs declaring “Black Lives Matter,” “Racism Springs From Ignorance” and “Intolerance Will Not Be Tolerated” as they walked down the sidewalk on 10th Street. An 8-foot banner held by several marchers said “We Stand Against Racism.”
The Topeka High School drum line led the marchers east down 10th Street and through the north entrance of the Statehouse.
“Be polite to the governor,” Wagnon, a former head of the Kansas Democratic Party, told the students before they entered. “We’re not there to ask questions about policy positions. We’re there to thank the governor.”
At the governor’s office, the protesters were met by Gov. Sam Brownback, who issued a proclamation declaring Thursday “Stand Against Racism Day” in the state.
The mood was light as students shook hands with Brownback and thanked him for his proclamation in the crowded office.
“No fighting in here. Are you brother and sister?” the governor jokingly asked two students. “You seem like brother and sister.”
As Brownback posed for photos and handed out copies of his proclamation, Wagnon thanked him.
“We appreciate your willingness to issue this proclamation and stand up against racism,” she said.