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Teen-organized rally may draw thousands downtown

L to R: Chief David Rahinsky, Je'Ana Mason, Danielle Mc Millon, Eugene Brown and Monica Sparks discuss 4Unity event in downtown Grand Rapids.

An event started by several teenage friends in Grand Rapids in response to violence by and against law enforcement may bring thousands to downtown Grand Rapids on Saturday. 

Sixteen-year-olds Je’Ana Mason, Danielle McMillon and Eugene Brown say they sought action and answers after what felt like a never-ending list of names: Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Symone Marshall.

So they created an event on Facebook to organize and spread a peaceful message of unity and solidarity.

"Basically, was just trying to go downtown to Rosa Parks Circle," Brown says. "And just have like a few friends come, maybe some people I didn’t know tag along"

Then last week: Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. And a targeted attack on law enforcement in Dallas that left five police officers dead.

The small event seemingly struck a chord across Grand Rapids, and the teenagers watched the attendee list grew to several thousand within days.

"And then when it got bigger, we were all in complete shock. But we were happy about it," Mason says. "It just – we never thought as a community, everyone would come together and help us out. We’re really grateful for everyone's support."

The trio’s comments came at a press conference coordinated by the Grand Rapids Police Department, after the high schoolers, calling themselves 4Unity, reached out to work together. They’ve also been working with several adult mentors for organizational support.

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky spoke highly of the effort. He says the nation could learn a lot from their actions.

"They recognize that the challenges that we face nationally aren’t going to be solved by community alone or by law enforcement alone," he says. "They’re going to be solved cooperatively."

The Saturday #AmINext assembly is at noon at Rosa Parks Circle.

It had about 3,500 RSVP’s as of Thursday night.

Hilary is a General Assignment and Enterprise reporter for WGVU Public Media. She joined WGVU in September 2014 after several years of experience as a local news reporter, anchor and photojournalist in Midland, Saginaw and Bay counties. She's also worked as a financial and business reporter and audio field producer.
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