'I gotta get my voice heard': 12-year-old takes up megaphone at Black Lives Matter rally

Hayes Gardner, Louisville Courier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – About 150 protesters entered their third marched mile as the sun seton a lively section of the city known as the Highlands.

There were revelers at Baxter’s 942 Bar and Grill, and there were drinkers and diners at O’Shea’s Irish Pub, and there was Keshawn Johnson, 12, sporting an Engelhard Elementary youth baseball T-shirt and shouting for the patrons of each establishment to chant with the protesters.

“Black Lives Matter!” Keshawn yelled, just as he had for that entire evening and day and month. 

Keshawn Johnson, 12, kneels while raising a fist at the Breonna Taylor mural in Jefferson Square Park in Louisville, Ky. Johnson has often led chants during protest marches. "I feel like this is what I need to do for everyone to get justice," Johnson says. "I have little people that look up to me, and I don't want the generation after me to go through what I am."
Keshawn Johnson, 12, kneels while raising a fist at the Breonna Taylor mural in Jefferson Square Park in Louisville, Ky. Johnson has often led chants during protest marches. "I feel like this is what I need to do for everyone to get justice," Johnson says. "I have little people that look up to me, and I don't want the generation after me to go through what I am."

The patrons yelled with him.

Breonna Taylor, 26, was killed by Louisville police officers in her home March 13, and since May 28, protesters in Louisville have marched in her honor.

The protesters populate Jefferson Square Park, their de facto downtown headquarters, each day and march each night, calling for justice for Taylor and changes to a system they say is beyond unfair.

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Keshawn has been regularly brought to the protests by his grandmother, Anna Harrison, who began volunteering with the Kentucky Alliance a month ago. She wanted Keshawn to witness history.

He hasn’t merely witnessed. He demanded the megaphone, literally and figuratively, in what has become a nonstop youth movement. He created a 12-line poem – never writing it down, simply crafting it in his head and memorizing it – which he recited aloud to a crowd of protesters.

“We will always be looked at different ‘cause we’re Black/ ‘Cause they think we’re either shooting, killing or selling crack,” he began.

Keshawn plays basketball, baseball and football, is a junior pastor at his church and a straight-A student at school, where he completed the seventh grade. He’s been coming to Jefferson Square Park since June 2.

“I gotta get my voice heard,” he said. “If we’re the future, we gotta do something now.”

His participation has had a special effect on Harrison who, in her 68 years in Louisville, had never seen a protest before.

“I get choked up sometimes,” Harrison said, watching her young grandson lead the charge.

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The duo arrive at noon each day and leave around 7 p.m., and Keshawn sometimes doesn’t want to depart. “Do we have to go?” he asked Harrison as he led a group of adults in yet another rendition of “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”

The volatility of the protests was clear June 27 when photographer Tyler Gerth, 27, was shot and killed by what protesters and police said was a disturbed demonstrator. The shooting left the protesters at Jefferson Square Park uneasy but still active. Keshawn was back in the park two days later, chanting, "No justice, no peace," displaying a steadfastness reflected by the final couplet in his poem.

“We can’t just sit on the couch and pout/ It’s about time that we show the world what we’re about.”

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Breonna Taylor: 12-year-old takes up megaphone for Black Lives Matter