A Detroit teenager is being praised for helping to lead a peaceful protest in response to George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.
On Monday, Stefan Perez, 16, started to march into downtown Detroit accompanied by 15 people. Others joined the march steadily, and before long, Perez found himself leading a large crowd.
The teen was given a megaphone and although some were scared and others threatened to become aggressive, Perez resolved to maintain peace and safety.
At the end of the day, the teen took a knee on Michigan Avenue and urged protestors to return home in order to respect the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.
“I tried to keep everybody together, I tried to keep everybody as a collective group, and we marched,” he told The Detroit Free Press. “I’m surprised people listened to me. I’m glad they did because they’re not hurt right now, ’cause they could be.”
Perez, a rising senior at the Communication and Media Arts High School in Detroit, hadn’t always considered himself a leader. He says it’s his grandmother’s influence that inspired him.
“If it wasn’t for my grandmother, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
“As a teenager, I have put her through a lot of stuff… but she stuck by my side when I needed it the most, and she’d be proud of what we accomplished tonight.”
Perez’s admirable leadership that day prompted Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who watched the protest from a live stream, to get in touch with the teen while he spoke to the press.
“I was watching the video and I saw your leadership and I had tears in my eyes,” Duggan said on a call with Perez. “You are everything that is special about the city of Detroit… we’re gonna fight this injustice because of people like you.”
Perez thanked the mayor for his support and added that he was grateful for the support of uniformed officers who were marching alongside the protestors he led.
“The fact that people follow me… and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing… I’m glad I’m not a statistic because I could be,” said Perez, who is Black, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan.
“At the end of the day I felt like I made a mark,” Perez added. “I felt like people that [were] with me felt that. They felt the pain. All we wanted was just to reconcile for ourselves to the people we lost: George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin. There are so many names … I’m glad that I’m not a name.”
“I’m glad I was able to take a knee, put my hand up and say ‘Black Lives Matter.'”
Perez plans to attend Wayne County Community College after graduation.
Watch Perez’s full interview with the Detroit Free Press, and his call with Mayor Duggan, below: