The Teens Behind The RNC Balloon Drop

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Alto saxophonist and 15-year-old Holland Petway uses a pressurized air spigot to blow up a balloon quickly. After, he’ll tie it by hand. Photo: Phoebe Petrovic/Youth Radio
Alto saxophonist and 15-year-old Holland Petway uses a pressurized air spigot to blow up a balloon quickly. After, he’ll tie it by hand. Photo: Phoebe Petrovic/Youth Radio

Later tonight, 125,000 balloons will drop from the rafters of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. About a hundred local teenagers, who took a bus to the arena last Friday morning, blew up each and every one. And that’s no easy feat, says 14-year-old Kiliell Wallace.

Kiliell plays tuba, but he wishes he had the nimble fingers of a guitar player. “It’s the tying that’s really really really hurting us. So yeah, that’s the problem,” he says.

The students here are all from the band and chorus at Garfield High School, just outside Cleveland. Their booster club took this job in exchange for a $7500 donation from the contractor who provides the convention with the massive balloon drop.

 About 125,000 red white and balloons hang above the rafters in the Quicken Loans Arena, where they will stay until Donald Trump officially accepts the nomination on Thursday night. Photo: Brett Myers/Youth Radio
About 125,000 red white and balloons hang above the rafters in the Quicken Loans Arena, where they will stay until Donald Trump officially accepts the nomination on Thursday night. Photo: Brett Myers/Youth Radio

They say they’re excited to play a role in the convention. But how do they feel about Donald Trump?

 “The majority of our school is African American, so you can only imagine how we’re gonna feel about Donald Trump and how he feels about us,” says 14-year-old Kahlil Tyus.

“Donald Trump is a bully. That’s how I see it. He’s a bully,” says Kahlil’s classmate, Allison Hill, who’s 17 years old.

As they sit there surrounded by the red white and blue balloons, I can’t find a single student who says they would vote for Trump. They tell me they want the next president to focus on making college affordable and combatting gun violence, police brutality, and racism.

Eighteen-year-old Terez Siggers says police shootings are weighing her down. “I woke up one day, went on Twitter, and this video just went viral. The next morning it was another one. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t–like it’s too much. I don’t want to keep waking up to bad news, I want to wake up to ‘Hey look at this, it’s a beautiful world.’ I’m waking up to another man killed for selling CDs, like I can’t. I don’t want to hear it anymore.”

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Band students Jennifer Smith, Kaybriona Bryant, and R’Moni Petterson (left to right) joke and laugh. Smith and Petterson wrapped their fingers in tape to protect them while tying hundreds of balloons. Photo: Phoebe Petrovic/Youth Radio

Terez says she joined choir as a freshman, and that she and her peers make an extra effort to be welcoming and supportive. Amid a lot of laughter and cavorting, she says it’s like they’re all best friends.

If only they’d see that same sort of unifying force coming from the White House, is the sentiment I hear again and again from Terez and her classmates, like Holland Petway.

“What’s most important to me is a president who’s trying to make peace with almost everybody, trying to bring everybody together, because you can’t have peace if everybody doesn’t love each other, so you have to make everybody come together and love each other for you to have peace.”

Most of the high schoolers who are making tonight’s balloon drop possible are too young to vote. But they care a lot about who wins.

 

 

 

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