It’s been quite the week.
I’m still struggling to put into words all of the anger, sadness, hope, fear, inspiration, compassion, and determination that I’ve been experiencing lately. That these feelings which I, and others like me, have lived with our entire lives are now being distilled and compressed into such a short timeframe is surreal. That this experience is now being accompanied by an outpouring of support from across the country and around the world has been nearly unbelievable.
This truly feels like a moment for the United States and Black people everywhere. Momentum shows no signs of fading and we’re already seeing the foundation of long-term, legislative change being established. The road ahead is still a long and difficult one, but the promise of equality feels that much closer as a result of the actions being taken now; the voices echoing the same cries for freedom that have reverberated in this country for generations.
It can feel a bit hollow for some people to reference the civil rights leaders of history in this moment which is indeed itself historical. But it’s also important to remember that these demands for real freedom are nothing new. Suffering has gone on long enough. Persecution has gone on long enough. Systemic, government-sanctioned racism has gone on long enough. And we should never forget those who came before us; those who seized the moment; those whose struggle preceded ours; and those who never let the message die so that we could pick up the torch in this moment of our own:
Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free!”
Martin Luther King Jr. – April 3, 1968
After stumbling across an impromptu demonstration last weekend, I set out more intentionally on Saturday to take it to the streets and march with my fellow New Yorkers. In just one week, the organization and infrastructure of these demonstrations has rapidly evolved and they stand in stark contrast to the police brutality we’ve continued to experience around the country.
Protests in NYC have been springing up in multiple neighborhoods across every borough, and like the one I recently attended the goal is often to converge with other marches and show power in numbers. I started in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn but only caught up with the tail end of the march near Barclays Center just in time for a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd. From there, it was north to the Brooklyn Bridge and on to Manhattan.
Never one to let a moment pass without documentation, I had a camera with me to capture the experience as best I could.
It’s tough to describe the energy of these crowds as well as the sheer volume of people converging in one place, but the electricity has certainly been palpable. In all my years in NYC, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as connected to the larger community as I have when joining these demonstrations.
Now that there’s no argument to be made that the marches in New York are anything but peaceful, the police opted to take a more hands-off approach over the weekend, though they never let their presence be forgotten. That became all the more obvious as we approached the bridge into the city.
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is always a cool experience, but nothing prepared for me for how remarkable that crossing would be with 20,000 other people all chatting in unison for the same societal reforms. The same calls for equality.
As we emerged on the Manhattan side of the bridge to march past City Hall, the police presence grew somewhat unexpectedly. Tensions were high, but everyone kept their cool and things proceeded without incident as we pushed north towards Washington Square Park.
And then, the rain began.
Saturday was a typical June day: hot and humid, and so most people were dressed for summer. As quickly as the clouds rolled in they began to dump rain on the city and drench everyone who was outside. Some had ponchos and umbrellas, some used their cardboard signs for protection, but most were exposed to the elements, and everyone continued to march even as the police scrambled to find cover under nearby scaffolding and doorways.
And then as soon as the rain started, it stopped. Clouds parted quickly and the sun shone again, peeking in between buildings and cross streets as we made our way through SoHo. People in the neighborhood leaned out of their apartment windows, banging pots and pans to cheer on the crowds below.
Eventually, we made it to Washington Square Park.
It was as full of people as I’ve ever seen it, so it was tough to move around by the time I arrived. Through the trees and the sea of people I could barely make out the stage that had been erected for City Advocate Jumaane Williams—introduced as the next Mayor of New York City—to address the crowd.
The rain began again as he spoke, but no one budged; his words and the moment too visceral to pass up for the creature comforts of shelter:
We are here to dismantle a system of discrimination and oppression that has been rooted in this country from its inception.
Jumaane Williams – June 6, 2020