Local ‘Black Lives Matter’ Rallies: A Year Later

It’s been over a year since local communities came together and held rallies in support of Black Lives Matter.

Here are thoughts from some local supporters and activists on changes they’ve seen in the year that has passed since the rallies:

 

Imani Pagan 

What was it like planning the first Black Lives Matter protest in Cortland a year ago?  

Planning the first BLM protest in Cortland was extremely nerve-racking. I’m very shy. I refuse to let that get in the way of protesting for what I believe in.    

Have you seen any changes since the event?  

I’ve seen a little bit of change in our community, as in people “who are open to listen” are more educated in the way Institutional racism works.

What do you hope to see in the future?

In terms of the future, I’m hoping to see better progress in the way in which we teach our kids. Just a few weeks (ago), I was at the park and heard another (kid) tease another kid stating “at least I ain’t black.” I also would like to see more togetherness; in terms of more events, so that we may continue to educate people.

Reed Cleland

We know that you planned the first protest in Homer, but what was it like assisting with the planning of the first Black Lives Matter march in Homer a year ago?  

I was the lead organizer for the “We Will Not Be Silenced” Black Lives Matter March, which occurred on June 6th, 2020, on Main Street in Homer, NY. A week prior, a group of friends from high school and I stood on the village green with signs in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Our message was positively received by the community, so we decided to go further and do something which has never been done before-organize a peaceful march down Main Street to draw even more attention. Over the course of that week, we were able to connect with (now my good friends) at Cortland’s Black Lives Matter chapter, who were invaluable throughout the planning process. This was not my first rodeo in the business of community organizing (my first experience was when I organized and led a student walkout in the wake of the Parkland High School shooting in 2017). None of these past events, however, could compare to the scale and magnitude of the June 2020 march. I would not have been able to pull any of this off without Cortland BLM, and it was right and proper that many of them headlined the event as speakers. It would not have been a BLM demonstration without Black voices at the forefront.

Have you seen any changes since the event?  

I’d like to think that the march served as a turning point for raising awareness about post-Jim Crow racism. Even though I was the lead organizer of the march, I have had the opportunity to watch and listen as others, particularly the folks associated with Cortland BLM, have continued to carry the message forward. As I’ve watched, I’ve noticed conversations happening about racial inequality that have never taken place in or around Cortland County. At first, our public officials in Homer weren’t too eager about a BLM March (for understandable reasons) going down Main Street, but I’ve watched the Board of Trustees make some promising decisions since then, particularly making Juneteenth into a floating holiday for village employees. I’ve seen task forces throughout our county orchestrate a necessary dialogue about the function of policing. I think that these changes, while perhaps symbolic to some, indicate that the march drew a lot of attention and (I hope) will be something that our county can look back on and take pride in several generations from now. We were part of something larger than ourselves.

What do you hope to see in the future?

I’ve never believed in abolishing the police. What I do believe in is providing the best educational opportunities to our young people. Racism still exists in our country and in our county. Period. Every time I see a Confederate flag in front of someone’s house or on a bumper sticker, I feel it as a burning shame and embarrassment. I have been both a student and personnel member in our local public schools, and I’ve personally watched our young people sporting the flag in school on their hats and backpacks. Every time I do, I am convinced that education has to be at the center of any agenda for moving our communities down more inclusive paths. I do not happen to believe that the average American is a racist, but I also believe that those who don’t learn history (all sides of history) will inevitably repeat it. We need to dramatically re-imagine our system of education, providing instruction to our teachers in how to address issues of race when they emerge in the classroom, and re-writing our curriculums to reflect our nation’s entire story, not just the parts that look good. One of the best ways to show love to our country is to acknowledge all parts of our history, not just the parts that look good, so we can not commit the same crimes in our future. In terms of Cortland, and New York State more generally, we need an educational system that can ignite conversations of tolerance among our young people. That starts at the local level, with decisions made by our Boards of Education. I would encourage them to take a hard look at how these topics are presented in the classroom.

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Kristina Fury

What was it like planning the first Black Lives Matter protest in Homer a year ago?  

Planning the first BLM protest in Homer was a learning experience and an opportunity to listen. It was powerful to stand with such gifted, articulate individuals, and I appreciate their willingness to invite me to know them and also learn from them.

Have you seen any changes since the event?  

Change is slow and painstaking. When we listen and learn from the lived experiences of marginalized individuals and then welcome them to leadership, everyone benefits. When we follow the leadership of Black and Brown women, the general population benefits. I have seen local leaders begin to soften their attitudes and start to engage with their constituents—though that is what they should have been doing all along. We still have so much work to do—and I include myself in this. I can always get better at de-centering myself and instead listening to and using what influence I have to amplify the voices of those more marginalized than I.

What do you hope to see in the future?

Activism does not happen in a vacuum, and race is not the only way individuals are marginalized. Intersectionality plays a huge role in how we work for change. The burden of inciting change has been largely shouldered by women who are not only holding down jobs and going to school, but who also shoulder the brunt of the caregiving. The gendered nature of activism cannot be overlooked. In the future, I would like to see better representation across the common council and just as importantly, the county legislature. I would like to see the police reform in EO203 put into action. I would like the actions of local leadership to be supported by actions so we no longer need to wonder if the hard work and long hours made a difference. 

 

Most of all we know the work is not done. We will keep working towards an anti-racist approach to leadership in our community.

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Steve Williams

What was it like planning the first Black Lives Matter protest in Homer a year ago?  

“I was a part of the Homer rally/walk, and I was also a part of the rally in Cortland. I was also a part of the rally held in Tully a month or so after that.

Have you seen any changes since the event?  

Looking back a year later, I think that we did a lot of good for the culture in those moments. I’m relatively new to the Cortland area, so I’m not sure what it was like before the year before last (2019) to have a year of comparison. Last year when I arrived, I kind of arrived in the midst of a lot of tense racial conversations in our county, along with the other conversations being had in our country. I think that it was a step in the right direction. I think that there were a lot of actions that followed these rallies, these protests, these walks, and these meetings. 

What do you hope to see in the future?

“We’ve seen a lot of movements since then (the marches in June 2020). Just to continue to have these conversations for things to continue to progress and to not die out.”  

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After the interview, Williams said that he hopes those holding political positions continue to have conversations on equity for people of color. He closed by praising the Village of Homer for the announcement that the village would allow Juneteenth to count as one of their floating holidays, and the upcoming Juneteenth event that will be held at Courthouse Park on June 19th

 

 

 

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