A young woman from West Hartford grew her idea for a ‘one woman protest’ into a Black Lives Matter rally in reaction to recent shootings of people of color by police officers.
By Joy Taylor
DeLisa Dixon turned to social media to help process her grief over recent shootings and violence directed at black people. After waking up to news of a second day of violence and seemingly senseless murders last week, she was craving a time to feel united with her West Hartford community.
“This is obviously something that I am very passionate about. Not only as a black woman, but as a human being,” Dixon said in a Facebook post.
Speaking through her own tears on Monday night in West Hartford’s Veterans Memorial Park on the very public corner of Farmington Avenue and South Main Street, Dixon said that after she stopped crying and crying last week she decided it was time to “put my phone down and do something more than posting a hashtag,” in reference to the #blacklivesmatter hashtag.
The hashtag and black lives matter movement was originally created by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza after the 2012 murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. The hashtag, and subsequent movement are responses to perceptions of anti-Black racism in our communities and our world.
Cornell Lewis, the chief organizer for the Hartford-based Moral Monday CT assumed the role of welcoming folks to Monday’s event when the rally began around 5 p.m. Just before things got rolling, an “all lives matter” man, in protest of the rally, was making a scene. The man, who was white, was unwilling to have a civil conversation with Cornell, and was asked by a police officer to be on his way.
The rally quickly grew to approximately 100 people of all ages, colors, and sexual identity – some with signs, some without – and everyone wanted to have a voice and find a safe community. The crowd was led by a variety of speakers, whose ages and colors reflected those in the crowd.
The spontaneous chants started with “Black Lives Matter” and “The people united will never be divided,” as well as a back-and-forth chant “No Justice – No Peace” and “No Racist – Police” were received with encouraging “beeps” from cars and trucks as they passed by.
Police officers on site were there to help keep peace and be sure everyone was safe. Officers were also stationed on the roof of the building that houses Breugger’s Bagels on the corner of Farmington Avenue and South Main Street – carefully observing the crowd.
Bishop John L. Selders, Jr. CLS, D.D, a black man who founded the Hartford-based Moral Monday CT with his wife, Lady Pamela Selders, took the megaphone to speak “in solidarity with West Hartford,” and spoke of the ways our humanity is tied together, crossing the religious labels. “Christian, Muslim, UU … our humanity is tied … all lives are inescapably connected.” His UU comment elicited a big cheer from a large group from Fern Street’s Universalist Church.
Selders quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Moral Monday CT is a black-led movement for racial justice in Connecticut, supported by people of faith, and is affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, a non-profit organization which stands for full equality for LGBT youth, adults and families, said she was honored to be speaking at the event. As a white female, she said she isn’t always sure what to say.
McHaelen then settled on three pieces of advice, appropriate for everyone: 1) Get past denial (citing that we all have biases to overcome and the first step is to admit that). 2) Move toward people who are different. Look into their eyes and listen. 3) When you see something, say something every time – even to a loved one who is being inappropriate.
Another female speaker opted to read statistics rather than share her emotions. She said that according to her research, police in our country are more likely to use hands, pepper spray and violence against people of color – in some cases, they are up to 17 or 18 percent more likely.
Rev. Joshua Mason Pawelek, a white Unitarian minister from Manchester with a strong drive for social justice causes, shared his concern that some are seeing the Dallas shootings of police officers as normal. “It was not a normal thing, but it was the result of white supremacy. The shooter was enraged … very, very angry because he was in a system of white supremacy,” and that needs to change.
Attendees were encouraged to make an on-going commitment to stay involved, be vocal and demonstrate in word and deed for justice for all.
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