With all the unrest across the country and more and more disturbing examples of prejudice and brutality against black citizens coming to light every day, peaceful Black Lives Matter rallies have become a popular way for many to express their feelings.
Just a week ago, Amity grad Micaela Cardozo decided that it was time the Amity community join in the movement and begin to truly understand the plight of their black brothers and sisters.
She spoke with the first selectman, Police Chief Frank Cappiello, Youth Services Coordinator, and others and arranged for the streets to be closed for everyone’s safety during the march. She reached out to Orange Democrats Jodi Dietch and Mary Welander who set up a table with poster board and markers so protesters could make signs.
Several Woodbridge police officers, including the chief, were present, but not “in your face.” Cappiello stood in the back and took a photo of the gathering with his cell phone at the beginning and said of Cardozo, “She did a good job.” He also was pleased that every single person wore a mask, helping keep the risk of spreading COVID-19 to a minimum.
Of all the local rallies, this is the first one we’ve seen that was fully orchestrated by young adults.
Micaela recruited other Amity High alums, Ryan Rattley, Zoie Reed, and Tobe Nwangwu to speak at the gathering along with Woodbridge First Selectman Beth Heller. Only Rattley, who is in college in Pittsburgh, could not attend. He asked his mother, Carol Galloway, to read his thoughts for him.
Micaela, a tall, pretty, blonde, introduced herself and stated, “You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I am bi-racial, and I’ve never experienced racial discrimination. But my friends have and black lives matter.”
She introduced First Selectman Beth Heller, who first thanked all of the speakers and everyone there who came together in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrating their commitment to social justice.
“We will march because Black Lives Matter. We march for justice, for equal justice under the law, for economic justice, for environmental justice, and for equal opportunity,” Heller said. “We march because this is who we are.”
Heller added this important piece of information. Some of you may be aware that the Merriam-Webster dictionary will now include systemic racism in its latest definition of racism. Kennedy Mitchum, a young Black woman from Missouri and recent graduate of Drake University wrote to the Merriam-Webster editors, to request that the dictionary provide a more detailed definition of racism, a definition that recognizes that racism extends beyond one-to-one interactions or expressions of prejudice to include systemic racism where larger systems and institutions in society in education, policing, health care, or the economy work over time to reinforce differential treatment according to race. To her surprise, the editors agreed. In its new definition, Merriam-Webster will attempt to indicate that racism isn’t limited to discrimination or prejudice from one person to another but racism is also about longstanding institutions, laws, and regulations that promote notions of supremacy and inferiority between the races. This is systemic racism.
“We watch in anguish in response to systemic racism, particularly the pattern of needless and senseless acts of violence that have taken the lives of our black brothers and sisters, and recently, the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. But this time, I think we have reason to hope that things will change,” she said. “There is a new burst of energy, a protest movement across this country and beyond our shores, in cities and towns in all 50 states, a movement that crosses racial, ethnic, political and generational differences, a movement that binds us together by our common humanity, a movement poised to inspire new policies and new legislation.
“I think Dr. King believed that the arc doesn’t bend toward justice on its own,” Heller said. “That’s our responsibility, and that’s why we are here today.”
Next Nwangwu gave an impassioned speech, sharing the stories of several of the more recent black lives lost to police brutality, prejudice, and hatred, just because of the color of their skin.
Each heartwrenching account was shared with sadness, anger, and pain, as only a black person could tell it. You could hear a pin drop in the field of grass upon which the sea of white people sat along with their black neighbors, classmates, and friends.
Ryan was a little black kid who went through the Amity school system, and the first time he heard a derogatory word about his race was on the bus coming home from Middle School. Woodbridge children were not the only ones to make him feel uncomfortable or out of place. He recalled riding his bicycle one day and being followed all the way to his home by a woman who didn’t let it end there. She sat outside his home for a while to make sure he wasn’t up to something criminal.
Ryan was on the Amity Lacrosse team and he was in four of five Amity Plays — even earning a nomination for a High School Musical Award for his performance in “In The Heights.”
He reflected on how everyone loves you then, congratulating you when you make a goal or give a great performance, but you can’t ride your bike through a Woodbridge neighborhood because you’re black.
Zoie Reed told the crowd that she was going to be brutally honest so, if they didn’t like what she was saying they were free to leave.
And she is right. As much as I or the next white person can be infuriated by the actions of a racist cop shooting a black person, or kneeling on his neck until he dies in the street, we will NEVER know how it affects the black person standing next to us. How can we? We are not black. We can walk into a store, or ride our bike down a street without being followed because we’re not black.
We all have a lot to learn. We need to have a conversation and really listen, and make a change in the culture across this nation.
Cardozo was choked up after Zoie’s speech and took a moment before introducing the pastor from a local church to lead the 8 minutes 46 second moment of silence in memory of George Floyd — the exact amount of time he lay in the street with a knee pressed against his neck as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” and called for his “Mama.”
Able-bodied participants walked to the corner of Meetinghouse and Newton, while others lined their cars up behind a police cruiser for a long walk around town displaying signs and chanting, “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe.” etc.
I’d like to congratulate Micaela for organizing this peaceful, poignant event for the Bethany-Orange and Woodbridge communities. And Thank You to the young speakers for putting their hearts and souls into their presentations.
I hope that we all now have a better understanding, although we won’t ever fully understand, and begin to make a difference because it really does matter. This is where it starts.