'Her voice matters,' mom says of Tharina Oris, a teen speaking out against social injustice.
To Tharina Oris, a lifelong resident of Golden Gate, actions are more powerful than words.
The 17-year-old was one of the youngest speakers at the "We Can’t Breathe" rally that took place June 10 on the steps of the Collier County Courthouse. The rally called for an end to police brutality against Black people.
Oris, a first-generation Haitian-American, argued Collier County should defund the sheriff’s office and use the money to pay for policies that promote equality, such as in public education.
"We have hope. We can change things," Oris said to the about 600 people who gathered that day.
Similar protests have been happening throughout the United States after George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, died in the custody of that city's police officers in late May.
Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly 9 minutes during the arrest. A bystander recorded video of Floyd telling Chauvin he couldn't breathe.
Oris, a recent graduate of Golden Gate High School, spoke alongside the NAACP of Collier County president and other community leaders at the courthouse rally.
"I can't breathe either, but we need to actually go forward and start making motions to actually help our communities that are oppressed," she said.
Sharing her story in front of hundreds of people was something Oris said she prepared for through her experience with her school's debate club.
"Me being a Black, young woman — it helped propel my voice and helped a lot of women like me feel like they were heard or represented at the rally," Oris said.
A lot of her time during the past several weeks has been spent organizing events, circulating information to the community and watching documentaries to educate herself on racial and social justice, Oris said.
"It's what I am meant to do right now," she said. "I don't think it would be right for me not to be using my voice and not to be pushing like I am now."
She attended peaceful protests and marches at the courthouse in early June. She also helped organize a Juneteenth celebration at Cambier Park.
The Juneteenth event was to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States and a reminder of the fight against injustice that has to continue, Oris said.
Ruth Oris, her mother, said she was unsurprised Tharina joined the protests held in recent weeks.
"Tharina has always been very social, very opinionated, very strong minded, smart and always wanting to make a difference," Ruth Oris said. "That's Tharina."
As a mother, the safety of her daughter comes first, said Ruth Oris.
"I want to make sure she'll make it back home safe," Ruth Oris said. "As far as what she is going out there for, I support my daughter because she has a voice and her voice matters."
Oris said she will be a University of Central Florida student in the fall and expects to double major in political science and philosophy. She plans to become a lawyer to continue her activism.
She hopes that the local movement will lead to overdue demands of racial equity being met in Collier County, Oris said.
To help achieve that, she is committed to continue attending demonstrations, meeting with county commissioners and holding those in power accountable, she said.
"It's a lot bigger than the death of George Floyd," Oris said. "It's even bigger than the police and the justice system. It's about how racism creeps into every institution in America and how it negatively affects the marginalized groups of people."
This story originally published to naplesnews.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.