Mill Valley residents peacefully protested racial violence and systemic inequality on Sunday, June 6, marching from the Depot Plaza to Tam High. Photos by Tane Daijogo.

PictureTam High student Sierra Hetler, at center, with friends at the June 6th Black Lives Matter protest she organized. Courtesy image.

For weeks, protests, rallies and demonstrations have been popping up all across Marin in support of Black Lives Matter in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, among many others.

One of the most striking takeaways throughout June has been the leadership shown by Marin’s youth, particularly in Mill Valley.

“The young people who are out there in the streets are not a product of the last several months, they are a product of the last many years where we’ve seen these particular sets of issues,” Walter Turner, professor and chairman of the social sciences department at College of Marin, told the Marin Independent Journal.

Those young people include 18-year-old recent Tam High grad Paul Law, who reacted to Mill Valley Mayor Sashi McEntee quickly moving past a resident’s question about the Black Lives Matter movement by creating a petition calling for her resignation. The move sparked a five-hour City Council meeting that saw councilmembers dive deeply into an array of recommendations directly from the community and committing to a range of next steps, including turning that statement into a resolution that the council plans to approve in July (MORE INFO HERE).

PictureProtesters gathered outside of Tam High after marching down Miller Ave. on June 6.

Marin City kicked things off June 2 with a galvanizing rally that was organized by Tam High students Mikyla Williams, Lynnette Egenlauf, and Ayana Morgan-Woodard, and the momentum has been sustained throughout June, including recent protests in Tiburon on June 23 and in Fairfax on June 28.

Later in the month, Mill Valley teens Nyiera Campbell and Charlotte Crowl, organized a June 25th march that drew more than 100 protesters up and down Miller Avenue calling for an end to systemic racism in Marin County schools.

But the energy in the pair of protests on June 5-6 – the first of which took over the entire intersection of Camino Alto and Miller Ave., and the second of which drew hundreds to the Downtown Plaza before a march down Miller Ave – surprised many in terms of massive turnout, focus and passion. 

Few know that 15-year-old Sierra Hettler, a freshman at Tam High, was largely responsible for the inception of the June 6th event. Hettler credits Kayla Zeisler, her eighth grade social studies teacher at Mill Valley Middle School, for planting the seeds for her interest in justice and equality.

“She was a great teacher who didn’t sugarcoat U.S. history and that was really eye opening to,” Hettler says. “That interest increased this year, and when heard the news about George Floyd, we started to talk about it among friends and we were just really, really angry. Mill Valley is a very sheltered place, full of white privilege, and it got to a point where it wasn’t OK to just sit around and let it happen.”

Hettler had attended a protest earlier In the week with her brother’s friend, and came away from It wanting to create “something that families could go to.” She made a flyer and posted it to her Instagram and other social media platforms. 

“Soon my friends were posting and Tam High leadership were posting and it blew up very quickly,” Hettler says. “It was all very unexpected. No one really knew who started it. I posted the flyer but I don’t think anyone knew I took the first step. The speakers who came to share their stories were amazing, and it all happened organically.”

On her way to the plaza that Saturday morning, Hettler says she was shocked at the outpouring of people for the event. 

“I honestly didn’t realize everyone was there for the protest – I thought something else may have been happening,” she says. “When my brother and I signaled for people to started walking down Miller, I was just blown away – the chanting, the energy.”

Hettler says she’s not done with the movement. “It’s very easy to turn away from things that don’t personally affect you but that’s being part of the problem,” she says.