Approximately 30 students at Carlton High School participated in a walkout the afternoon of Monday, April 19, in an effort to protest racial injustice.

Participating students left class roughly 20 minutes before the end of the school day and gathered outside the building, where they addressed topics such as racism and police brutality.

They carried signs that read “Our skin is not a weapon” and “History can’t be changed, but the future can be.”

Organizers said they were sure to wear masks and remain socially distanced throughout the event. School staff members were also present to supervise the students.

“It felt really powerful,” Carlton junior Haley Ableiter said.

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Multiple walkouts across Minnesota high schools Monday were evoked by the April 11 death of Daunte Wright, 20, of Brooklyn Center, and closing arguments in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

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Ableiter explained that she, along with a handful of other students, helped to organize the Carlton event after coming across the idea on Instagram. She said seeing others stand up for their beliefs gave her the courage to do the same.

The group took roughly two days to plan the walkout, coordinating with district students, staff and administration. They also sought help from local activist Jaylah Willis, who had experience with protests last summer.

“This is the nicest, most polite notice of a student walkout that I've ever experienced,” Carlton Superintendent John Engstrom said in an email to staff last week.

Engstrom also reported positive results to the Carlton School Board Monday night following the walkout.

“They did exactly what we asked them to do,” he said in regard to the students.

Not all feedback has been positive, however, with some negative comments appearing on social media following news of the event.

Carlton students Esperansa Kingbird (left) and Haley Ableiter (right) stand outside the Carlton school building during a walkout Monday, April 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Haley Ableiter)
Carlton students Esperansa Kingbird (left) and Haley Ableiter (right) stand outside the Carlton school building during a walkout Monday, April 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Haley Ableiter)

While she shared that this was hard to see, Ableiter said that she is not letting the comments get to her and plans to coordinate similar efforts in the future.

“We need more representation here at Carlton,” she said, explaining that there is little activist movement in the small town.

Willis echoed this idea, commenting that she wants to help bring more racial equality efforts to the Northland.

Willis grew up in Duluth, and emphasized that while there is racism in the area, there are not a lot of ongoing efforts to combat the issue.

“It’s almost like hell living here,” she said. “Everybody who is Black has experienced discrimination.”

Willis got involved in Monday's walkout after her cousin, a student at Carlton High School, asked for help. She shared that she was impressed by the seriousness of the event and how much care the students showed.

“It was great,” Willis said. “It meant a lot.”

Despite the negative feedback and the interruption of false fire alarm, Ableiter felt that Monday’s walkout went well, with a positive impact resulting overall.

While school faculty members and officials were unable to directly voice their opinions on the movement, Ableiter said she believed the students were largely supported in their efforts.

“I would like to congratulate those students on voicing their opinion in a very peaceful and respectful way,” Carlton School Board member Sue Karp said in a meeting Monday night.

Engstrom told staff that agreeing or disagreeing with student expression of free speech isn't the point — it's finding ways to allow them to make that expression — while maintaining a sense of order and health and safety protocols.