By NICK ADUBATO
For Montclair Local
Nick Adubato is a Montclair High School junior, and one of the organizers of the event.
“This is not a moment, this a movement.” The words rang out throughout the crowd of 4,000-plus Sunday, June 7, in Rand Park at the student-led protest, The Black Lives Matter Unity Walk. The event began at 2 p.m. on a sun kissed day and wrapped up around 6 p.m. with a performance by MHS Alumnus, Samad Savage.
The sea of red came to speak out against the death of George Floyd, and the racial injustice within Montclair and throughout the nation.
Floyd died on Monday, May 25, after a police officer, Derek Chauvin, held a knee on his neck for more than eight minutes. The video of Floyd’s death has been widely shared. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.
The Black Lives Matter Unity March was a peaceful protest was in cooperation with the Montclair Police Department, who blocked off one half of the road and had patrol cars in front of protesters guiding them safely through town.
The students had a list of six demands being brought to the Board of Education to combat systemic racism in Montclair schools.
- Desegregating classrooms and making sure students of color have the opportunity to be in AP classes;
- More black teachers and leadership in the district;
- Dismantling the Eurocentric curriculum;
- Mandatory teacher training on covert racism and cultural competency;
- Changing the culture. Establish a student task force against racism in the community and;
- Busing in the South End.
“In a word, it was moving. It is always uplifting seeing the community come together,” said spectator and MHS senior Trevor Hettrich.
That was the message of the day for many who witnessed the Unity Walk.
Put together in just over a week by 25 student organizers and over 50 volunteers, led by NAACP Youth Council President Gen Whitlock, the walk amassed a crowd of over 4,000 people and managed to raise $4,500 for local bail funds and social justice endeavors. Whitlock was the head organizer of the event.
“A big part of organizing the event was everyone being on each other’s side. Constant, motivation, empowerment, and each and every one of us having the back of each other,” said Brianna Barrett, Montclair High School senior, and organizer of the event.
The protest began with speeches by Whitlock, MHS junior; organizer Shayla George, MHS senior; MHS alumna Janeya Rutty.
Among the events: MHS alumna Madison Jones recited a spoken-word poem entitled, “To The Black Boys.” Senior Destiny David performed a cover of “I Am Light” by India Arie, MHS junior Mikee Ellis, also an organizer of the event, performed a dance to the beat of Lauryn Hill’s “I Find It Hard To Say.”
As black students stepped forward and read anonymous testimonies of black students at MHS detailing their experiences with racism in Montclair, audible gasps could be heard throughout the crowd in response to the vitriolic stories from each student. The stories were printed on a sheet that was handed out to many of those in the audience.
“I wanted to fit in so bad that I let my white friends call me ghetto whenever I wouldn’t wear Brandy Melville. Those same girls wear everything I tried to wear before it became trendy. Ghetto is just black culture that has yet to be stolen.”
“My three black girlfriends and I were leaving from the basketball game against MKA [Montclair Kimberley Academy] in February when a group of white MKA boys drove past us and yelled at us to go get our food stamps.”
“Last year I had a video of boys on the baseball team screaming ‘F— N——’ repeatedly. At first I tried talking to a senior on the baseball team about it to see if there was a way to address the racial culture on the baseball team — everyone knows about it — but instead, I was harassed and intimidated by members of the team every day for the rest of the year.”
“My math teacher once told me not to talk like a slave.”
“When I told my teacher that people in my class were making me feel bad about my blackness he told me that he just needed to teach his class and that I should try to be less angry when I show up.”
“When we were reading ‘Beloved’ in class my teacher asked if anyone would be uncomfortable if she read the N-word and as the only black person I raised my hand but they ignored me and did it anyway.”
Tears streamed down the faces of students and spectators as Whitlock read name after name of black men’s lives taken at the hands of police.
“George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery” she read.
The 4,000 who had assembled then split into two routes marching through town, one towards the South end of town and one headed uptown.
For some of the students who attended, the walk was particularly meaningful.
“As a black person who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, my identity tends to silence my voice from being heard in society simply because of the stigmas that are placed on people like me. This Unity Walk has helped me to realize that I do have the power to speak out and that my voice will be heard. I cannot let people’s hate and bias scare me into not fighting for what’s right,” said Ellis.