On May 25th, an unarmed Black man named George Floyd was killed at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, igniting protests across the country, and around the world, calling for justice and amplifying the message that Black Lives Matter.
These weeks of protests also come after the March 13th killing of Breonna Taylor, an unarmed young Black woman who was shot multiple times while sleeping in her home, by Louisville police officers (who have still yet to be arrested). As well as the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by white civilians while jogging (unarmed) in his neighborhood in Georgia in February. And, as many of us know, the list goes on.
Over the last few weeks, thousands of New Jersey residents have participated in marches and peaceful protests against police brutality across the state, including a May 30th protest in Newark, which drew about 10,000 participants. This past weekend, thousands of Montclair protesters took to the streets to remember the Black Americans whose deaths serve as a reminder of the injustice and systemic racism that plague this country.
On Saturday, about one thousand Montclair residents participated in a protest and demonstration organized by Abraham Dickerson, the For the Peoples Foundation, and Montclair Citizens for Equality and Fair Policing. The march began at Nishuane Park and moved along Harrison Ave to the Montclair police station. At the station, on the corner of Valley Rd. and Bloomfield Ave, protesters stopped and knelt in peaceful protest for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That temporal period has come to serve as a moment of remembrance, reflection, anger, and frustration, as it was the length of time in which George Floyd was pinned under the knee of Derek Chauvin, who was formerly with the Minneapolis Police Department. The moving period of silence was prefaced and followed by inspiring speakers, including Larry Hamm, the leader of the Peoples Organization for Progress.
The crowd eventually continued on from the police station, marching down a closed-off Bloomfield Avenue, as many businesses and restaurant owners stood by sharing words and posters with messages of solidarity. Restaurants such as Ani Ramen and Cuban Pete’s displayed signs with the emboldened words “Black Lives Matter,” while Studio042 showed their support by donating one thousand voter registration forms and one thousand census forms to march organizers, who distributed them throughout the day. The marching portion of the protest concluded at Crane Park, with a series of speakers and performances. The speakers included Abraham Dickerson, Diane Anglin of the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, as well as various clergy members from Montclair and Newark. And as the demonstration continued, young people of Montclair inspired the crowd with their words of anger, passion, and strength. Aja Bussey, a Montclair High graduate and a rising junior at Howard University urged protesters to avoid becoming complacent, to remember that the fight does not end with one protest or one petition. Another recent Montclair High grad, and rapper, Samad Savage performed a moving musical tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the progress he hopes to see in the future.
The young leaders of Montclair continued to inspire on Sunday, as approximately four thousand residents attended the Black Lives Matter Unity Walk, organized by current and former Montclair High School students. Protesters gathered outside of the Montclair High’s George Innes Annex along Chestnut St. to listen to student speakers and performers, prior to the start of the walk. Various students shared their experiences with racism within the public school system, reminding many Unity Walk attendees that despite the diversity that Montclair and its schools are celebrated for, there is a deeply embedded presence of systemic racism in the district, and there is much more work to be done.
The high volume of attendees led the organizers to split the protesters into two groups, one which traveled south to Nishuane Elementary School, and one which traveled north to Valley Road, with both groups meeting back at the high school for final words.
Despite the impressive numbers that Montclair displayed this weekend, all of those who organized the various marches implored participants to make sure that their work and activism are not just part of a trending moment, but will continue to be upheld in the future.
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