In late May, as the murder of George Floyd triggered protests against police brutality and systemic racism across the country, a 17-year-old high-schooler named Vivian was resting at home in Austin, Texas, recovering from ankle surgery. Unable to participate in the protests but determined to take action, she turned to her social media platforms to gauge the discourse in her community, a predominantly white suburb just south of downtown. It just so happens to be my new neighborhood as well.
Noting that she rarely goes on Facebook except to “look and see what my mom is posting about me,” Vivian found herself reading all the threads related to the topic on our neighborhood Facebook page. And let me tell you, as someone who has spent way too much time doing the same, it was a lot to process. “A lot of people were arguing about Black Lives Matter and the protests,” she recounts. “But I could tell there were [also] a lot of people who wanted to help but just didn’t know how.” So, she came up with a plan.
On her other social media platforms, Vivian had seen people posting about actionable ways to help fight racism, which gave her the idea to make a poster she could place in the neighborhood that would educate and inspire her neighbors interested in the cause. She knows firsthand just how vital educating people on racial injustice is.
Vivian’s experience as a mixed-race resident of our community (her mother is white, and father is Black) is all she’s ever really known, and she states, “I’ve lived in this house, in this neighborhood, since I can remember.” Although she likes many things about the area, she acknowledges, “There have been some downsides to it…the schools I’ve been to haven’t been the most accepting for diversity.”
Her mom, Kate, tells a story about a particular soccer game Vivian was playing in, where students from a rival school were yelling out to her, “asking where her do-rag was.” She also remembers a time in middle school when another girl gave her white face powder because she was, “the whitest black girl she’s ever met.” These “micro-aggressions,” as Vivian refers to them, have permeated her family’s time in the area, so she wasn’t naive to the fact that racism existed in her school and community. She just didn’t think that “so many people were OK with it.”
The poster she created went beyond the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and expanded into three categories: educate, donate, and support. Underneath each heading were books, TV shows, movies, and organizations for people to check out, as well as local establishments that are Black-owned. Vivian knew that not everyone in the neighborhood would be happy about the sign, expecting that some people would “look at it, be angry, then look away and move on.” Handwritten and decorated with flowers, she proudly duct taped it up to the back of her family’s fence where it would get the most visibility.
A few hours later, it was gone.
“I was really disappointed,” she states. “I spent a lot of time on it and wanted more people to see it.” Once she realized it was gone, she planned to make another one — but her mom had another idea.
Kate, Vivian’s mom, recounts being “super frustrated” by the sign’s removal. Since the murder of Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year, Kate has been taking a different approach in dealing with race issues in her household. She states, “Vivian and her brother have really challenged me on some things,” noting that in the past, Kate has “given people passes” as to not make them uncomfortable when it comes to discussing racism and white privilege in the community. Admitting that she would encourage her kids to let certain things go, she recently made a vow not to silence their voice, promising, “You tell me where the battlefield is, and I’ll go with you.”
It turns out; the battlefield was back on Facebook.
Knowing that whoever removed the sign was likely part of the community Facebook group, Kate decided to put a photo of Vivian standing next to it on the page, telling the story of how it came to be, and how it got taken down. Noting that if their motivation for removing it was so that people wouldn’t see it, Kate was now determined to get even more eyes on it. She accomplished her mission, but what happened next was something neither of them could have predicted.
Within a short time, many members of the community who saw the post encouraged them to make printable versions of the poster that people could purchase and place in their yards. Less than 24 hours later, Vivian and her brother had designed the yard sign, created a website for ordering, and found a local printer to help fulfill the orders. “I thought maybe we’d sell about 20,” Vivian states. “I told my mom not to pre-order that many.”
Hundreds of views and shares later, Vivian has sold 70 signs (and counting) to area residents, raising approximately $1,500 in proceeds that she plans to donate to organizations working to fight racial injustice. She’s even thinking about expanding to other cities in Texas as well. What started as a small gesture, a way for Vivian to use her voice within her neighborhood, is now a growing mission that highlights just how powerful one voice can be. It’s also a testament to a mother’s love, the kind that’s willing to get uncomfortable in support of her daughter’s beliefs.
And as for the person who removed the sign? Well, Vivian has a message for them as well. “Thank you, because now it’s everywhere and I have raised a ton of money…it’s bigger and so many more people will see it than if that sign had just stayed there. So honestly, thank you.”