NEW YORK CITY — Sophie Black stopped wearing tank tops in the third grade.
She remembers being tasked with running the attendance sheet down from her classroom to a female security guard at her former elementary school.
Once she arrived, that guard told her the top wasn't appropriate dress.
“She told me when I got back upstairs I had to put on a sweater so that the boys in my class wouldn’t get distracted by my shirt,” Black, now a student at Manhattan Country School, recalled.
“Confused, I responded, 'Okay,' but it left me with a feeling of insecurity.”
She added that she was also baffled that the advice came from a woman.
“We have to remember as women to empower each other,” she said, speaking to the crowd.
As she participated in an annual student-led march Monday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil and human rights legacy, Black used this personal story to highlight the ways in which women’s bodies are too often policed.
The Manhattan Country School, founded in 1966, is based on the inspiration of King, according to Angela Meadows, a school spokeswoman. It has been holding the march every year as a project for its eighth graders.
Hundreds of marchers — mostly parents and students — chanted, sang and walked to key locations between Uptown and the school’s West 85th Street campus to highlight modern-day civil and human rights issues such as sexual assault, mass incarceration, climate change and LGBTQ rights.
Locations included the Harriet Tubman memorial at Saint Nicholas Ave. and 122nd Street, Columbia University and Riverside Church.
Underclassmen were also in tow holding signs saying “We will live for justice and peace” and “We all come from different boats, but we’re on the same ship now.”
A group of second-graders sang “Let There Be Peace” and “'This Little Light of Mine.”
And singing pic.twitter.com/GwZYohHksU— Dartunorro Clark (@DartDClark) January 16, 2017
At the Tubman memorial, several students discussed mass incarceration and the racial inequities in the criminal justice system.
Eighth-grader Myles Dawson spoke about incarceration rates among African-American men for non-violent offenses and how racial inequities in the criminal justice personally affect him.
“Why should I look at myself and two of my friends and expect one of us to be in prison for who knows how long and what for?” he said, citing federal statistics that suggest one-in-three black men will be incarcerated in their lifetime.
“There are too many statistics that make me scared for my future.”
Also discussed mass incarceration in Harlem at Harriet Tubman memorial pic.twitter.com/AoB7sbV3DW— Dartunorro Clark (@DartDClark) January 16, 2017
Dawson’s mother, Deirdre Hollman, said she was proud of the school for having the march because it not only offers leadership preparation but helps the students discuss important community issues.
Hollman said it was particularly moving to hear her son speak.
“It’s emotional because you raise your kids as a parent and hope you can shield them,” she said.
“Seeing him speak, it’s evident it’s giving him the grit (he needs).”