If you didn’t know it already, or didn’t come to know it after events that exploded across America since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the South Jersey Students for Black Lives wanted everyone in downtown Haddonfield to know on June 24.
Black Lives Matter.
On that afternoon, the newly formed social-justice collective — a collaboration between students from Collingswood, Haddon Heights, Pennsauken, Woodlynne and four borough high schoolers — held a peaceful protest march along Kings Highway during the late afternoon hours to maximize impact and visibility.
The route stretched from Haddonfield’s PATCO station to Haddonfield Memorial HIgh School and included a planned stop at the intersection of Kings Highway and Tanner Street, where protestors split apart and stood on either side of the arterial highway.
One group stood at the crosswalk, responding to leaders with bullhorns in hand. The other mingled with outdoor diners at a corner bistro, while both sides repeated slogans indelibly identified with the movement that seeks justice for African Americans mistreated by police.
No justice, no peace. No racist police.
Say his name.
Say her name.
Aside from a gathering of a few hundred souls for a relatively benign joint march with citizens and Haddonfield police on May 31, the borough had been shielded from the effects of some protests and demonstrations calling for action to value Black lives and demand greater attention to African American history.
But the protesters — fronted by Satta Massaquoi, Sena Amuzu, Keturah Jones, Sara Smith, Fatimah Hayes and HMHS students Mehki Rippey, Zion Lee, Amanda Yeager and Katrina Edwards — argued on June 24 that nobody should be left unaware.
Once demonstrators decamped in front of the high school, Rippey began his remarks by assailing traditional athletic competitions between rival towns.
“This antagonization of the other that goes throughout high school acts as the racism and xenophobia that has run through our country for the last 400 years,” he said. “Students, we need to stop this now.”
Lee relocated to Haddonfield from Camden seven years ago. She related a series of shocking, personal stories of interactions with white classmates since grade school, including multiple instances of being called the N-word.
Dr. Stephanie Harris, executive director of the Amistad Commission at the state Department of Education, followed with extensive remarks, praising the activism of the youth that allowed many voices to be heard on the day.
“I salute you, young people, for being out here,” she began. “There have been almost 500 student-led marches across the state, in three weeks, organized and led by students who are using their voice to gather for justice. Don’t forget your power.
“I am here with you,” Harris added. “I am here to make sure that in your curriculum, that you right the wrongs, to see your entire fabric intersected in an American narrative that represents the entirety of America. That you become familiar with the histories, the political protests.”
Harris ended with a benediction for the newly awakened generation.
“Galvanize and strategize,” she said. “Galvanize and strategize and strike, while you recognize what needs to be changed. Plan for what we need next. Know what has happened in the past. And change this nation.
“We’re counting on you.”
Edwards urged her elders to reach beyond initial steps, where the community becomes aware, in public, of those willing to stand and fight.
“We have the power to make this a world we want to live in,” she noted. “To the non-students here, your presence is vital to our work and we are grateful. Please keep showing up for us.”
Yeager’s remarks, coming just prior to an eight-minute, 46-second pause for the assemblage to kneel in remembrance of Floyd, provided perfect punctuation for all parties.
“Stop being silent,” she pleaded. “Challenge those who speak against the protests, even if they are family members. Reflect. How are you going to take steps going forward to help end systemic racism in your own community?
“Be the change. Keep protesting, and allow your voices to be heard.”