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Port Jefferson

Local conservative group Setauket Patriots hosted what they called a Patriots Day Parade July 4 in place of the normal Fourth of July parade hosted by the Port Jefferson Fire Department. Photo by David Luces

A caravan of cars, motorcycles and other vehicles drove down Port Jefferson’s Main Street to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The Patriot Day Parade, which was hosted by the Setauket Patriots, a local conservative group based on social media, was put together fairly quickly as organizers were able to obtain the necessary permit and approval from the village within the past week.

Despite the local fire department’s decision to cancel its annual parade, the Setauket Patriots group previously stated it wanted the opportunity to do something to mark Independence Day. A representative from the group said the parade would not be a political event. The majority of people who lined the sidewalks waved American flags and wore red, white and blue. Though there were a handful of individuals in red MAGA hats and some participants who drove past with Trump 2020 and Thin Blue Line flags.

James and Flo McAvey of Port Jefferson, were a part of the crowd and were glad there was an event to commemorate the important American holiday.

“The village’s [annual] parade always has a big turnout, but I’m glad there is something going on to show patriotism toward America,” James McAvey said. “I know this was kind of last minute, I don’t think a lot of people knew about this. I think there could have been more spectators if they had more notice.”

Barry Issberner of Port Jefferson, said he thought the decision to not have the usual annual Fourth of July parade was a big mistake.

“I understand the concern, but to call off the whole Fourth of July parade because they were worried people weren’t smart enough to protect themselves was wrong,” he said. “I’m glad someone else picked it up and ran with it.”

Issberner was seen waving a big American flag throughout the parade, adding that it was important to be at the event.

“I wanted to come out and help celebrate the birth of America,” the Port Jeff resident said. “It’s important for the country to pull together. I thought the turnout was pretty good, we had a good amount of cars go by. For something that was last-minute organized, it got a good crowd to come out.”

File photo by Elana Glowatz

This is an open letter to the members of the Port Jefferson board of education, Port Jefferson Teachers Association and Port Jefferson Administrators Association.

We hope this letter finds you well and healthy. On behalf of Port Jefferson PTA, PTSA and SEPTA we are reaching out to share our thoughts as the district prepares to re-open in the fall. First and foremost, we would like to thank each of you for your time and dedication to maintaining the excellence we enjoy at Port Jefferson School District. We also want to take this opportunity to express our support for the teachers and administrators as they have navigated distance learning during this unprecedented global pandemic. We feel it is important as the representative parent/teacher organizations in the district that we share with the board of education our, as well as many of our members, thoughts and concerns that have arisen regarding the education of our children under the constraints of this pandemic. We hope that by doing this we can come together to create solutions that will allow our district and children to shine as we face the monumental challenges of reopening and keeping everyone safe and healthy.

As you know, without a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19 there is a high likelihood that the next school year will be impacted by the pandemic as well. We are aware district administrators are currently planning for this new “normal” and are discussing the possibility of returning in the fall to a “hybrid” model that includes some component of distance learning. In the event this is the case and the district is forced to continue to employ some component of distance learning, we are urging the board of education to ensure that any model employed during the 2020-21 school year provides our students with consistent daily virtual interaction and live instruction. Our children need their teachers to teach them. We understand that some school districts on Long Island delivered “live” teaching district-wide and believe that going forward this would be the best way to maintain the excellence in education that Port Jefferson School District has always provided.

We understand that our teachers and administrators were faced with an enormous challenge to develop and provide a distance learning program on very little notice. We understand that it wouldn’t be as comparable to a regular school day. We have all done the best we could, given the circumstances. However, despite everyone’s efforts, the model employed by the district during the spring translated to an inconsistent educational standard/experience across the

district. Teachers were given the discretion to “host synchronous and/or asynchronous

instructional activities.” This primarily led to little live instruction and an uneven learning experience across the district. While some teachers offered live and/or pre-recorded instruction, many did not and instead only posted assignments to Google Classroom (or various other platforms) which then placed the burden of teaching those assignments on the parents. As parents, we of course want to educate our children, but we are not trained educators and many of us still have our own jobs to perform. Being forced to become a teacher and work at the same time becomes an impossible task. 

This scenario creates an inadequate educational experience for our children putting our kids further behind on the competitive world stage. In addition to the decreased educational standard that has occurred as a result of this crisis it is also concerning that some teachers had weekly “check in’s” and worse still some had no virtual live interaction with their students during the entire length of the school closure. For the few teachers who provided live instruction we applaud their dedication, creativity and adaptability in continuing to deliver excellence in education during these unprecedented times. We are now calling for all of our teachers to provide education at this level of excellence during the next school year in the event the district is forced to employ some sort of hybrid model that includes distance learning.

For many parents, the current mindset is that 2019-20 was a lost school year. Were it a limited event affecting the end of a single school year we understand the crisis of the situation and can accept a lower standard that emergencies demand. However, the reality of the situation is that this pandemic will sadly go on for longer than any of us hoped and we cannot completely let go of the standards our children deserve. This pandemic has forced many changes upon us. All industries have had to adapt. As we weathered the initial crisis, we must now begin to prepare so that the 2020-21 school year is not a lost educational year as well. Given the great educators the district employs coupled with the advances in technology we believe that Port Jefferson School District can excel at this challenge. Let us be the district that leads and that other districts strive to emulate.

We urge the board of education, the Teachers’ Association and the Administrator’s Association to approach the 2020-21 school year as an opportunity for Port Jefferson to become recognized as the gold standard in distance learning to the extent the school is not able to return to a traditional school day. As parents, we believe that any distance learning plan should include, at a minimum:

• Live virtual and/or pre-recorded teaching that matches the amount of active, teaching time provided during a regular school day.

• Daily/weekly “office hours” for any teacher not utilizing “live teaching” so that students can ask questions regarding content.

• Daily check ins for all classes — “attendance” including lists of what is due, when it is due and a way for students to check off that they read and understand.

• Support services such as speech, OT, PT and counseling offered in the amounts specified in IEPs through online platforms and teletherapy.

• A clear schedule for students to follow with time built in for outdoor time for exercise and play.

• Weekly emotional/educational phone call check ins with each student (use teachers, TAs, support staff).

Rethinking the way education is delivered is obviously a monumental task. We are confident, however, that our administrators and educators, working together and in consultation with our parents can come up with a plan that continues to deliver an excellent level of education to our students. We here at PTA, PTSA and SEPTA are eager to support the district in any way we can and would love to be involved in the process going forward, sitting on any committees that are convened of stakeholders. To quote high school Principal Dr. Robert Neidig, “[w]e will get through this and we will persevere, after all we are Royals.”

Sincerely,

Port Jefferson PTA, Port Jefferson PTSA, Port Jefferson SEPTA

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Elementary school Principal Tom Meehan is set to retire at the end of the year. Photo from PJSD

Tom Meehan, current Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal whose education career spans over 40 years, has announced he will retire in December. 

Meehan, who originally retired in 2006 from the Middle Country School District, came back to work at the Port Jeff elementary school during the 2011-2012 school year initially on an interim basis. Later that year it was changed to a permanent position. 

“I thought I was going to be filling in for a couple of weeks, almost 10 years later I’m still here,” he said, jokingly. “I couldn’t have been happier with how these past few years have gone; it’s been great.”

The educator said deciding to retire again was a tough decision for him. He hopes students will be able to come back to the building during his last few months on the job.

“It broke my heart not being able to see the students these past months,” he said. “I like being in the hallways talking to them and just seeing their excitement.”

Meehan has a long history in Port Jefferson. He has raised his family in the village, he graduated from Port Jefferson High School and is an elected commissioner of the Port Jefferson Fire District.

“It’s a great community, I’m proud to be from Port Jeff,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of families in the district. I’ve coached some of their kids in baseball. It is nice seeing them grow up here,” he said. 

The elementary school principal was often seen walking to school every morning, and said he enjoyed being spotted by students who saw him making the trek to work in his suit and hiking boots. 

For his dedication to Port Jefferson’s students and the greater community, Meehan was chosen as a TBR News Media Person of the Year in 2015. 

The district hasn’t officially announced a successor, though Meehan said he believes Assistant Principal Amy Laverty would be a great choice for the job. 

“She would make an excellent principal,” he said. 

Meehan said he will miss the students and his staff he has gotten to know over the years. In retirement, he is looking forward to going on more hikes and spending more time with his grandchildren and family. 

“I want to thank the district and community for the opportunity to do this job. It is hard to walk away,” he said. 

Attendees and marchers during the annual Port Jefferson Fourth of July parade in 2019. File photo by Kyle Barr

*Update* Officials confirmed Thursday, July 2 the Port Jefferson Village board was issuing a permit for a car parade this Saturday after the permit was deemed complete by Village Administrator Joe Palumbo. 

Original Story:

After the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it was canceling this year’s Fourth of July parade due to the ongoing pandemic, a local conservative group announced it would host its own parade to mark the standout American holiday. However, this new community-run parade has made some waves within the village because of the event’s political undertones.

The Setauket Patriots, a local right-wing social media group, established the event they called Patriot Day Parade which was advertised on Facebook. They invited local fire departments, floats, classic cars or anyone else looking to participate. Because of concerns with distancing, Village of Port Jefferson officials requested the parade take place in vehicles. The Setauket Patriots also advertised for people to wear masks.

“All politics aside, this is not a political event, all people are invited,” said a representative of the Setauket Patriots who asked not to be named so as to not be attacked on social media. “We should come together for the birth of our nation.”

The parade is scheduled to meet up at 10 a.m. at Railroad Avenue then start marching at 11. The Facebook event said it has been in contact with Suffolk County Police who will escort the parade and close all streets along the route, though police did not respond to requests for confirmation. The route will take it down Main Street, take a left on West Broadway and stop in front of Village Hall where it will disburse, according to Village Administrator Joe Palumbo.

The parade has at least partially been in response to a recent protest march held in Port Jefferson. The Setauket Patriots description of their parade on Facebook incorrectly states that the Village of Port Jefferson canceled the regular July 4 parade, as that event is instead handled annually by the fire department. The post points to the recent Black Lives Matter march held in Port Jefferson June 18, which village officials granted a permit for, as why a 4th of July parade should be hosted as well. That June protest was created by students at Stony Brook University, who submitted the permit application which was unanimously approved by the village board at its June 15 meeting.

The Setauket Patriots’ post said that march shut down Main Street for four hours, but a TBR News Media reporter who was on the scene said it only lasted for two, and after holding speeches at Village Hall the crowd quickly disbursed.

The Setauket Patriots also wrote that despite comments from detractors that the parade would be a rally for President Donald Trump (R), the march “is a July 4th Parade PERIOD.”

“It’s not a Trump rally, but anyone who attends is free to wave whatever flag they want because that’s what this country  is built on,” the post continued.

As of Tuesday, June 30, village officials said they have worked through the application with a Setauket Patriots representative. The group paid the application and safety fees attached to the permit application, which has been sent for review. Because the next official village meeting is scheduled for July 6, Palumbo said the village trustees and mayor are to be polled on the application, but no decision has been made as of time of reporting. Because July 4 is a federal holiday, the decision on the application must be made before that date.

In mid-June, the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it would not be hosting its annual parade, and in a letter, Todd Stumpf, Port Jefferson Fire Department chief, cited COVID-19 concerns as why it was being canceled.

In May and early June, the village considered hosting its annual fireworks show at a later date than July 4, but by June 15 had canceled the show it usually hosts at East Beach, with officials citing safety needs and an inability for people to socially distance considering the numbers of crowds who usually come down for the annual display.

This post was updated July 1 with a comment from a Setauket Patriots representative.

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2020 Valedictorian Christine Iasso and Salutatorian Kyle Onghai. Photos from PJSD

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School is proud to announce that seniors Christine Iasso and Kyle Onghai have been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2020.                                                                                                                 

Iasso’s well-rounded education and extracurricular activities include being a member of the Academic team, Environmental Club, Interact Club, Mathletes team, captain of the junior varsity basketball team and a junior counselor at vacation Bible school. She also took advantage of the impressive MIT LaunchX, a program that teaches entrepreneurial skills and mindset through starting real companies, with interactive lectures, business simulations, entrepreneur panels and the actual design and launch of a company.

The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis. 

Onghai’s interests in math, investing, entrepreneurship, research and scientific journals have paved the way to being a National Advanced Placement Scholar, a National Honor Society member, a recipient of a Regents scholarship, captain of the Mathletes team and president of the Latin Club, where he has received five gold medals in the National Latin Exam. He has been honored in advanced calculus on the county level and has been an award winner in the school’s Physics Bowl, Quiz Bowl, Robotics and Science Olympiad. Onghai received the President’s Volunteer Service Award for his church altar service and for working in the patient education department at Stony Brook University Hospital. He took part in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University as a researcher in biomedical engineering using MATLAB and quantitative ultrasound. He has been on the varsity tennis team for all four years of high school along with other local athletic pursuits. His musical accomplishments as a cellist and pianist have led him to the Young Artist Program at Stony Brook University and as a participant in Levels 1-6 of the New York State School Music Association Festival. Onghai will attend UCLA and major in mathematics.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson will have closed by the end of the school year and will not reopen for fall2020. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the institution, and Catholic officials said COVID-19 has exacerbated issues of progressively lagging enrollment.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

According to a release by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the school, located on the grounds of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jeff, along with two other Catholic schools on Long Island, have suffered from increased competition from public and other secular schools. This has led to more and more financial support needed from local parishes.

“Following much analysis and discussion with stakeholders at both the diocesan and parish levels, the pastors of the parishes that support each school have made the difficult decision to close,” the diocese states in the release.

Parents will need to work with the diocese’s Department of Education and other school officials to enroll their kids in different Catholic schools on Long Island.

“COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on all of the parishes and schools within the diocese, resulting in the difficult decision to close these three Catholic elementary schools in order to eliminate the unsustainable financial stress on their parishes,” said Sean Dolan, a diocese spokesperson.

The diocese said in the release the school has declined in enrollment by 37 percent to just 66 students in kindergarten through eighthgrade. It is 31 percent, or 79 students, if you consider students from nursery through eighth-grade.

The school was financially supported by four local parishes, including Infant Jesus, St. Gerard Majella in Port Jefferson Station, St. James R.C. Church in Setauket and the St. Louis de Montfort in Sound Beach. The diocese said the four supporting parishes provide around $475,000 in operating support to the school, which accounts for more than 45 percent of the school’s total revenues. 

Our Lady of Wisdom Principal John Piropato and other school leaders did not return requests for comment.

The school was established by the Daughters of Wisdom, an order that has deep ties to Long Island, in 1938, then called the Infant Jesus Parish School. It was renamed to Our Lady of Wisdom in 1991. The sisterhood was largely uninvolved with it once it became a regional school, according to Sr. Cathy Sheehan of the Daughters of Wisdom.

Remembering Infant Jesus School

For the many students who went there over the past 80 years, many remember it as a strict place of learning, whether that fostered a sense of discipline or a harsh atmosphere. Once it transformed into a regional school, many said the place fostered a unique sense of community one couldn’t get from the other expanding school districts on Long Island.

Displants from the Port Jefferson/PJS area, folks who live as far away as New Mexico, chimed in remembering their old school.

Eileen Powers-Benedict said going to the Infant Jesus School engendered a strong sense of order that helped them get ahead in their school careers. The oldest of nine children, five brothers and three sisters, she would enter the school in 1961 while the last of the Powers children would graduate in 1985. Her father, William Powers, a deacon, was a frequent clergy visitor. Her mother, Tatty Powers, was a volunteer who did readings to those in prekindergarten through first grade. Powers-Benedict’s three children also went through the school.

She said while she understands why the school had to close, she is disappointed other parents will never have the choice to send their children there.

“The education for my siblings and me was all business, some of us came out a year ahead in foreign language and mathematics, although individualized instruction was not in style,” she said. “There was a tremendous air of compassion that supported students and their families in times of trouble and strife.” 

Michael Langan, who now lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was one of six children of World War II veterans Robert and Elizabeth Langan. He would graduate from the Infant Jesus School in 1968. 

He remembers even before the convent went up next to Infant Jesus church in the late ‘60s, when the nuns lived at a convent at St. Charles Hospital. The nuns would walk to the school or have a station wagon take them in bad weather.

Many of the nuns who taught at the school when he was there, Langan said, originated from Ontario, Canada. Many had marked French accents. Back then, he said behavioral discipline was very much the norm, including some amount of corporal punishment. 

“But in fact that was true of public and parochial schools back in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said,

Back then, he remembers, class sizes were much larger than today, with around 50 students.

One particular nun, Sr. Mary, he said, had “a beautiful soul — emblematic of the dedication of the Daughters of Wisdom who served the people of the Port Jefferson area for so many years.” She passed away this year on April 8.  

Not everyone accepted the nun’s punishment lightly. Deborah Keating, who now lives in Florida, said she graduated eighth-grade from the school in ’69, describing it as “a nightmare,” saying that some nuns could be abusive.

“Sr. Ann Michael, if you saw her coming, you knew you had better pray for your life,” Keating said. 

Though at the same time, her brother, who she said had Down syndrome, attended the Maryhaven facility in Port Jeff, which is also run by the Catholic church. There, she said the staff was very kind to him, and he went on to work as a janitor in the Maryhaven facility, He has since retired after working there 25 years, and lives with Keating at her home in Florida.

Things did change, especially as the years went by and the school changed names and leadership. MaryKate Henry, who lives in Babylon village, grew up in a middle-class household in Coram that she said worked hard to provide the Our Lady of Wisdom tuition for her and her siblings. She went there as it transformed into a regional school, and graduated eighth-grade in 2000 with a class of just 19. Her largest class size was in fourth=grade with 36 kids taught by one teacher. To this day, she still has friends that went there in her elementary years.

“That’s what I loved about OLOW — as we called it — everybody knew everybody, who your parents were and what they did and everyone was there for each other,” she said.

Faith was very much a part of the Catholic school, and she said that sense of religiousness has carried over into today. Her kids now attend the Babylon school district, and with a relatively small class size, she said it’s one of the things she hopes to have for her kids, a place that fosters community.

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Port Jefferson Marina. File Photo

Police said they responded to an incident in Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday when 16 people were found sick with carbon monoxide poisoning on a boat docking at a Port Jeff marina.

Captain Ryan, a 35-foot private boat, was traveling from City Island in the Bronx to Port Jefferson when multiple people onboard became sick with carbon monoxide poisoning at around 2 p.m. June 28. Suffolk County Police said the boat was able to dock at Danford’s Marina with 16 out of 17 people on board sick. Marine Bureau and 6th Precinct police officers, members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Brookhaven Town Bay Constables and Fire Marshals responded to the dock and determined there was carbon monoxide inside the cabin of the boat, effecting 12 adults and four children ages 10 to 13.

The origin of the carbon monoxide is under investigation but has been ruled non-criminal, police said. After a safety inspection of the vessel, two tickets were issued for having expired safety flares and having less than the required number of life jackets aboard.

The patients were transported via ambulance to Stony Brook University Hospital, St. Charles Hospital and Mather  Hospital for treatment.

Victoria Fitzpatrick

Phase 3 in Suffolk County is finally here! Effective June 24, it allows for larger gatherings of people, indoor dining at restaurants and the opening of more personal care businesses like nail salons with restrictions for safety. We sent our star reporter David Luces out on the streets of Port Jefferson last Friday to find out what the community is looking forward to the most as we move forward. 

Victoria Fitzpatrick

Victoria Fitzpatrick, Port Jefferson 

Indoor dining is something I missed. Anything seafood or outdoors is top of the notch [for me]. If I see you’re abiding by the rules and doing what you’re supposed to be doing as a restaurant owner, then I will go in. I need to get some lobsters — there’s a place on the South Shore that I go to. 

I would go back to the salon, as long as they’re doing the right thing. If they’re not doing the right thing I’m walking out. I’m a healthcare worker and I’m worried about the second wave.

Anthony Squitire

Anthony Squitire, Centereach 

I’ve been getting by just with takeout, but I will definitely consider going back to dine in at a restaurant once they reopen. I know museums are in Phase 4, but I would really like to go back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the city — it’s been like two years since I’ve been there.

Tom Adams

Tom Adams, Shoreham

I’m looking forward to being able to go out to dinner again. I miss going to Orto in Miller Place; I like having their linguine with white clams.  I also miss playing tennis and playing doubles matches. I usually play a lot with my friends in Shoreham Village. Right now, we can only play single matches only.

Michael Innace

Michael Innace, Holbrook 

I wouldn’t mind going back to some of the indoor dining. I see some of the places here have all the servers, workers wearing masks. I know my wife is erring on the side of caution through all of this, so she has no interest in going out to eat. So, I probably won’t be dining out just because she doesn’t really want to. 

Nail salons is another thing that she is putting on hold until she feels safe to go back. I think even after Phase 4 people are still going to act cautiously. I think there are going to be residual effects.

Joan Roehrig

Joan Roehrig, Setauket

We did outdoor dining a few days ago, it just felt so good to be outside and sit around. I would probably want to dine in as well. 

I’m not in a hurry to go back to the nail salon. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable going back right now. I’m definitely interested in getting my nails and hair done, but I’m in a wait and see mode; I’m not ready to dive in. If I saw that they were taking the proper safety precautions, I might go in.

Nora F.

Nora F., Port Jefferson

I’ve missed indoor dining. It’ll be a good time to go out with friends again. I’m looking forward to going back to Pasta Pasta; they just have great dishes. My daughter’s baby shower is July 12, so when I first heard that they’re opening up indoor dining, I was hopeful it will still be able to happen. Also, just being able to get my nails and hair done will be nice.

All photos by David Luces

 

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Protesters marched through Port Jefferson June 18 to call for an end to police brutality and racism. Photo by David Luces

Well over 200 protesters walked through Main Street in Port Jefferson Village June 18, calling for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. It was just one of countless other protests going on nationwide since the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police three weeks ago.

Malachi Moloney, the speaker of the house for the Black Student Union at Stony Brook University, and who was at the head of facilitating and promoting the protest, said he was happy with the overall turnout.

“It means the world to me — we wanted people to leave here with a better understanding of the movement and hope we gave them examples of how to be a better ally. I think we did that,” he said.

The SBU student said the reason they chose Port Jeff as the site of the march was to give people perspective on how black communities feel on Long Island.

“Places like this, they think the status quo is serving the majority,” Moloney said. “This protest shows that we are not happy with the status quo. If you come together with a singular purpose in mind, there’s great power in that.”

Moloney said there is more work to be done.

“We are continuing the movement that has swept the nation. In the last two weeks we have had more progress from a civil rights standpoint since 1964,” he said. “That’s the repeal of 50a, the charging of Rayshad Brook’s murderers, we are still waiting on Breonna Taylor’s case.”

Jarvis Watson, Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs at Stony Brook University, marched with the protesters and lauded the young people who were in the demonstration.

“I want to thank these young people for being here, making sure and recognizing that Black Lives Matter,” he said. “They are not just our future, they are our now. We have to make establishments take the knee off those who are oppressed.”

Amara Ayler, from Huntington, spoke on her experiences being black on Long Island.

“It’s not OK for me to fear walking to school and I see a police car and I fear for my life for no reason because I have a backpack on. It’s not right. It’s not fair,” she said. The police are supposed to make us feel safe. The police have never made me feel safe ever in my life. They’re supposed to protect and serve.”

Ayler said every time she hears Breonna Tayler’s name, she hears her own name.

“Amara Ayler, Breonna Taylor, it sounds similar,” she said. “It could be me, I don’t want to be another name on a list, I don’t want to be a poster or t-shirt. It’s not OK.”