A pair of teen siblings who split their time between Springs and the ocean where they surf, and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, their city address, organized via social media a paddle out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Wednesday evening. Sophia Ruckriegel, 14, and her 12-year-old brother, Kilian Ruckriegel, seemed to take it in stride when about 80 to 90 people showed up, many with surf boards, ready to join them in the paddle out.
The children, with their parents, watch the news together every evening, then discuss what they have seen afterwards. He noticed his two children were moved by the death of George Floyd in March while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Their parents, one a native of Germany, the other an African American originally from Houston, noticed a profound change in the two as they became conscious about race and racism in America.
When they are at their house in Springs, the two spend as much time as they can in the water with their surfboards. They had missed the paddle out in support of Black Lives Matter in early June at Ditch Plains, then later that month participated in a paddle out against police brutality in Rockaway, organized by the East Coast chapter of the Black Surfing Association.
Why not, they asked, organize a paddle out themselves? They spread the word through social media, while reaching out to various groups and organizers.
The event was supposed to happen at Napeague Lane Beach on Tuesday August 25, but a dangerous rip current made that unwise. Undeterred, they pushed the date back a day to Wednesday.
They spoke to the crowd before the paddle out. Sophia led off, as the siblings took turns, sometimes speaking in unison, reading from a page on an impromptu podium. “We believe that we need a movement that affirms the lives of people of color. We need a movement that promotes inclusion in the surf community and a movement that creates an anti-racist society. The Black Lives Matter movement is an important part of that journey.”
The two then described the deaths of Briana Taylor, George Floyd and Elijah McClain. “And three days ago, Jacob Blake, an unarmed father, was shot seven times in the back by police in Wisconsin in front of his three, five, and eight-year-old sons. He was shot seven times in the back. He is in an ICU and he is now paralyzed.”
One of the other speakers was Douglas Gee of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center. Gee, who is Black, addressed the almost all white group, composed of children and parents, many of whom are members of the surfing community.
Gee started by asking the audience what they thought of what he was wearing that day. “Do you like what I have on?” he asked. He said that the choice of clothing he makes every day here in the Hamptons is weighted by the fact that he is a black man in America. “My mind goes through this process each day, ‘What am I going to wear so that I don’t look too threatening?'”
Sophia and Kilian led the group with boards, at least 35 strong, out into the Atlantic, about 30 to 40 yards out. There, they formed a circle in the water.
On shore, the group could be heard doing a call and response of the names of Black people they say have been murdered by police officers in America in the recent past.