BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Students from Governor Livingston High School made their voices heard on Sunday, June 7, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement taking place around the country.
The Berkeley Heights march was organized by Berkeley Heights resident Rheaa Cordillo along with support from the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council and current and former high school students from the community. The march started at the new YMCA Parking lot and went to the baseball field at Columbia Middle School where protesters listened to speeches and voiced their opinions for about one-and-a-half hours until making their way back to the YMCA.
At the field, residents from Berkeley Heights including members of the Diversity Board and Little Flower Church made speeches, including Governor Livingston senior Victoria Vanriele.
Protesters also knelt in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s public death, along with years of systemic racism towards the black community, has sparked more and more people to rally together and speak their truth.
Vanriele, who was first invited by a friend to speak at the protest, attended because “we each have a unique story and I think that it’s critical that each one is heard.”
This cause is one that is very important and personal to Vanriele. “It’s easy when you look around and see so few people who look like you to feel alone.”
But when she saw the overwhelming support from the community, Vanriele said, “To be surrounded by that many people who want to see justice served and believe that racial inequality is a prevalent issue in America that needs to be addressed was extremely powerful.”
Hayden Sobel, a junior at Governor Livingston, who went to the protest to show his support for the movement, noted how change still needs to be made in the community. He said, “Schools need to properly educate students. We as a community must continue the fight.”
Sobol doesn’t think one needs to be black to support the Black Lives Matter movement. He tries to support the movement by doing his best to “listen and learn from black voices and black experiences. I speak up when I feel it’s warranted, and when I can make an impact. But I always make sure that I don’t overshadow the voices of black Americans.”
Makayla Curtis, sophomore student at the high school, attended the protest because “at the end of the day this directly impacts my community as a young black woman in America. I honestly wanted to see the support, or lack thereof, in Berkeley Heights with my own eyes.” As the protest began Curtis was overwhelmed by the “magnitude of support present in this town.”
Curtis believes that lessons about racial justice should begin at home. But she also noted, “Schools could be doing way more to educate students on our differences, inclusion, and multicultural history as a whole.”
Similarly to Vanriele’s experiences, junior Naomi Brogden said, “As a minority in a predominantly white town it’s easy to feel overlooked or not represented so it meant a lot to me to have an opportunity like this in town.”
Brogden thinks we all need to be advocates for change. She said, “I believe it starts at the individual level. It starts with people willing to be uncomfortable and talk about things they don’t know about or have no experience with. You then need to become an advocate for change, and advocate for learning about true American history that celebrates the contributions of African Americans.”
Senior Ciana Joseph, whose parents Ayana Joseph and Jimmy Joseph are both on the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council, said, “As a black woman living in America I have a different mindset and perspective of things than most people because of my skin color. And to think I have to fear my life because of the color of my skin is worrisome. Going to the March was a great experience to learn more about myself and be a big part of history.”
Joseph along with her parents and younger sisters all work to educate themselves on the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is important. Joseph said the school’s curriculum needs to be reevaluated. She said, “I think history is the most important subject in school. I feel as if I [wasn’t] given the chance to learn in-depth how severe slavery impacted society and how minorities were and still are a big contribution to how America is today.”
While change begins to come over the county, the goal, as shown by the students who attended the protest, is still clear: justice and equality for people of color.
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