SPOTSWOOD, NJ - The borough joined the ranks of surrounding Middlesex County towns like Milltown, Monroe, South River and East Brunswick that have hosted Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Beyond Justice held a protest on Friday at Spotswood High School. The rally and march was organized by Chargers' alumnus Agnes Mburu. Beyond Justice did not get final approval from the Spotswood Board of Education to hold the BLM rally until late Thursday afternoon. Since the rally was being held on school property, BOE permission was necessary. In order to get the word out about the peaceful June 26 protest, Beyond Justice took to social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
After attending the We Are One rally in Milltown on June 19, Mburu decided she wanted to hold a Black Lives Matter event in Spotswood.
"My mom was so against this," Mburu said to the 30 plus crowd seated on the junior varsity soccer field behind Spotswood High School. "She gave me hell the last week. I said mom, I have to. We have to. This can't happen anymore. We all just want to be happy. We don't want to go through this anymore regardless of the color."
Her mom came to Friday's rally after Mburu's younger sister left the family home to support her older sibling. Before the afternoon was over, Mburu's mother Anne Kagwe would speak too about feeling unwelcome in the Spotswood community.
"I saw the distinction of color when I came here," Kagwe said of how she felt after moving to the borough from Plainfield.
She talked about being the only black family in their Catholic Church and having fellow church goers refuse to shake hands with her and her children.
Mburu had help to plan Friday's protest from Lola Sagoe and Izz Oarsley who put together the Black Lives Matter demonstration earlier this month in Monroe along with another fellow Monroe Township High School graduate.
"I'm here to say that the time is up," Sagoe said. "It's sad that I had to become an activist. It starts right here in your community. Our voices must be heard. Police brutality is just one aspect of systemic racism. We must deal with generations of hate. It's 2020. Let's get it right."
"Make America change and grow," Oarsley said. "Black history is American history. I've realized the power in community. The system is against community."
In addition to Sagoe and Oarsley, Mburu had several speakers from the Milltown rally last week come and speak in Spotswood including teacher and entrepreneur Will Charles, Dante T. Muse, one of the owners of the Above Arts Studio in New Brunswick and performing artist, mentor, author and teacher Renee Taylor.
"The sentiment in the ghetto is to make it until you're 21," Charles said. "There shouldn't be any ghettos in America."
"Being black in America is like being quarantined in 2020," Charles added.
"Our beef is not with the police," Muse said, addressing the concern by many that the Black Lives Movement is anti-police. "It's with the system and how police are trained."
Muse added that unlike many professions where years of schooling, training or apprenticeships are mandatory, police officers training is only about six months before they are on the street dealing with the public. He also spoke about bringing change through voting and writing letters to local, state and federal officials.
"We are having a breakdown in this country," Taylor said. "It was vastly different when I was growing up. I never dealt with overt racism."
Taylor echoed Muse's sentiments about getting involved in local communities to help bring about change as well as in getting out to vote.
Mburu's friend Denzel Mensah, a professional basketball player and former standout athlete at South Plainfield High School, shared a story about what happened to him and two of his teammates at Penn State Wilkes-Barre when they were pulled over while driving through a predominately white neighborhood near their college campus in Pennsylvania. The trio were not told what they did wrong to cause the stop and were asked to get out of the car. Their car was searched and their belongings scattered about. When one teammate began recording what was happening with his cell phone, an officer became angry and threatened to break the phone. Another officer intervened and Mensah and his friends were allowed to go on their way.
He was playing basketball in Spain when the coronavirus pandemic hit the US. His first thought when he heard about the fatal arrest of George Floyd, was that something similar could have happened to him.
"I feel if that captain didn't say anything," Mensah said. "I might not be here today."
"We have to come together as a group," Mensah added. "Open a dialogue and learn about what people have been going through."
Two audience members asked to join the group of speakers, sharing their stories. One woman spoke about how she was inspired to come to Friday's rally because of what happened to George Floyd. The second ended up almost turning the peaceful afternoon into something ugly when his words enraged another audience member.
"It's not about race anymore," Ahmir Williams said. "It's about right and wrong."
When Williams began talking about Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama not actually being for the people, a woman in the crowd challenged him and insisted he stop speaking. After he said that President Donald Trump has "done more for black people than any other president" it looked like the peaceful protest would spiral out of control.
Mburu, her mother Anne Kagwe and Minister Walter Brown, a 66-year-old veteran, helped to restore order. Williams left along with a man he was seated with during the protest. Brown spoke to the protesters about the racism he's seen over the years including seeing a black man hanging from a noose in the woods of North Carolina.
Before concluding the events at the high school and making the one-mile march from Spotswood High School to the Immaculate Conception Church, Mburu's 14-year-old sister sang a song she composed. Once at the church, the group observed eight minutes and 46 seconds of silent meditation. That was the amount of time former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd in the fatal arrest. Afterwards the Beyond Justice protestors returned to the high school to end the demonstration. Saturday, another Black Lives Matter demonstration was held in North Brunswick.