Op-Ed: An Eleven-Year-Old Freedom Fighter for Elijah McClain

Op-Ed: An Eleven-Year-Old Freedom Fighter for Elijah McClain
Michael Emery Hecker
On Saturday, June 27, thousands of peaceful protesters walked in Aurora, demanding "Justice for Elijah McClain." Elijah was a 23-year-old African American male who died after his encounter with Aurora police officers in August 2019; he was almost home when he was stopped by officers because a passerby had reported Elijah for nothing more than walking while black — or in his case, dancing. Elijah knew his rights; he knew he was doing nothing wrong and just wanted to go home. He never made it there.

My son, Nicholas Elijah Evans, is an eleven-year-old Highlands Ranch STEM school student who heard Elijah's name on the popular app TikTok last week, and decided to start a #JusticeForElijahMcclain page on Facebook. When he learned that a student protest was being held at the Aurora Municipal Center on June 27, Nick turned from an eleven-year-old boy into an eleven-year-old activist. He jumped up, grabbed his pen and paper, and began formulating the perfect words to honor Elijah and bring justice to his life.

Organizers arranged for him to speak about 4 p.m.; on our way to the protest, we heard on KS107.5 that the Aurora Police Department tactical team was out in riot gear. As we turned onto Alameda, we saw the police lights and the street blocked off. I turned to my son and asked him, “Are you ready to fight for Elijah?”

Nicholas Elijah Evans with his sign. - AMBERLY TAYLOR
Nicholas Elijah Evans with his sign.
Amberly Taylor
Nick had been watching videos on the news and TikTok for a month about the Black Lives Matter movement, and asked if it was possible that he might get gassed or shot with rubber bullets; he was very surprised that a riot team was dispersed for a peaceful student protest. I replied, "yes." At this moment, I saw Elijah in my son; I saw his mother's pain in my son because he looked at me with tears in his eyes and replied, “Yes, Mom, I want to fight for Elijah McClain!”  The City of Aurora did everything possible to detour our mission; any open parking was barricaded, and the streets were blocked off. But my son was determined to scream Elijah’s name, and we made it to the barricades where huge men in riot gear stood with guns. There were police everywhere: on top of buildings, on the streets and right in front of my eleven-year-old son's face.

Nick stood his ground, and held his sign proudly. On it, he'd written “Walking While Black Should Not = Death.” The crowd was chanting "Say His Name," and Nick was chanting right there with them. The big men with guns didn’t look very scary to a determined kid who only wanted to find justice for Elijah McClain. I approached a man who had a megaphone and asked if my son could use it to say his speech to the Aurora police. He obliged, calmed the crowd, and handed Nick the handle to the speaker. Nick fumbled with the button but figured it out quick. He cleared his throat, put his shoulders back, and began the speech on which he had worked so hard. The words flowed: “My name is Nicholas Elijah Evans...I play football, I am learning to play the guitar, I love FortNite, and I am black in America.” The crowd began to cheer.

Nick paused to look at the Aurora riot team and said, “I don’t know if I am prepared in life yet to change instantly from the cute kid you wave at while walking by to the dead black man by the hands of police.”  At that moment, an eleven-year-old boy from Colorado made a whole police riot team stand down. They walked away as my kid screamed, “Am I next?" It was the most powerful statement I have seen from such a young man. I was a proud mother standing with my son, fighting for the world to know Elijah McClain's name.

Yesterday marked the day that thousands of people walking the streets of Aurora, Colorado, screamed for "Justice for Elijah McClain." It was a mark in history that hopefully will bring justice to the McClain family and the sweet soul of Elijah McClain. It was not necessary for Aurora police to come out to scare kids who just wanted justice for their friend, or kids like my son who feared he could be the next Elijah McClain. Although the Aurora police left as my son said his words, they later returned en masse as people protested in the name of Elijah McClain.

Elijah’s family deserves justice; every single person who dies at the hands of police deserves justice. From the words of my eleven-year-old son: “I ask you today, what are you doing to demand justice for Elijah McClain? What are you doing today that changes tomorrow?”

At 8 p.m. MDT tonight , June 28, people around the country will be lighting a candle for Elijah McClain. Find out more here.

Nicholas Elijah Evans's speech:

I am an 11yr old who will be attending Highlands Ranch STEM school in August, entering the 6th grade.
I play football, I am learning to play the guitar, I love FortNite, and I am black in America.
When people look at me, they don’t see a black male, not yet anyway.
Not until I turn around the age of 14 will I be perceived as an aggressor vs an aspiring scholar, like I want to be.
No one will notice when I become older that I want to be a marine biologist, or that I want to be a human rights activist like my mom, all they will see is the color of my skin.
No matter how dark or light the brown is in me, the brown will be the first thing that people will notice about me.
I don’t know if I am prepared in life yet to change instantly from the cute kid you wave at while walking by, to the dead black man by the hands of police.
I am 12 years younger than Elijah McClain was, when his life was taken by the hands of Aurora police, does that mean I have to count down the days until Elijah is me?
I did not know that I could be a victim of police brutality in Colorado.
Me and my family are from the South, we moved to Colorado for the search of racial equality.
I did not know my life was in danger just for being black in Colorado,
like the states that fly their Confederate flags proudly,
until I heard the name Elijah McClain,
than I head the name of De’von Bailey,
I heard the name of Joel Anthony,
and I think, I am not safe?
Being Black in America is not safe anywhere for me.
For every boy, girl, man and woman who has a speck of color in their skin, safety is not guaranteed.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said,
"Life's most persistent and urgent question, is 'What are you doing for others”?
I ask you today what are you doing to demand justice for Elijah McClain? What are you doing today that changes tomorrow?
I didn’t understand fully what Black Lives Matter meant until I read Elijah McClain's story,
It's not that we are not agreeing that all lives SHOULD matter, we are saying that All lives will not matter UNTIL black lives matter too!
We demand justice for Elijah McClain!
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