MONTVILLE, NJ – Her voice catching, Matida Njie spoke about her fear and anger at the many murders of black people at the hands of those sworn to protect them.
The Jam-e Masjid Islamic Center member spoke at the vigil held at the Montville Twp. amphitheater on June 10.
“As a black mother, I always instruct my sons to comply with police officers’ requests in order to avoid escalation,” she said. “But now, after watching George Floyd lose his life, even after complying with the police, I no longer have advice to offer that would guarantee their protection.”
She spoke of the various times she had been called a shoplifter or had expletives shouted at her because of her skin color and her faith – to the point where others called police.
Njie said that she thanks God she was able to leave the incidents alive. Speaking to a crowd of about 150 on the hill, who intermittently clapped and cheered, she asked how this uprising would be different from the last.
“How? How will this be different?” she said. “George Floyd complied. How can we make this stop? Silence is not an option. It is a time to be anti-racist. Every person has the obligation to use their voice to speak up for the powerless, and suffocate hatred. […] We all need to demand the end to systematic racism. […] We have to have uncomfortable conversations. At home. At work. Start with yourself.”
The event, sponsored by Different Faiths One Family Interfaith Group, was about two hours and featured speakers from many houses of worship plus two members of the township committee and Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (D-11).
“I’m here to stand in solidarity with those who want a better future for our community,” Sherrill said. “I’m also here to listen. We can’t build this future without listening to each other; without having open communication about how we can change, and at this moment it’s especially important to listen to our black community.”
Pastor Terrilisa Durham Bauknight’s voice also caught as she described incidences of racism aimed at her and her family – such as the time a police officer asked her what she was doing in “his” area, hand on top of his gun holster.
“I remained calm, because I had [my grandsons] to protect. ‘I live here,’” she told him. The leader of the African Methodist Church in Boonton said that some might say that those who are meeting and showing their outrage about the acts of racism are “stirring up the pot” and “blowing things out of proportion.”
“[But] we need to ask ourselves – where do we go from here?” she said. “Are we ready to march? Are we ready to talk? Are we ready to listen? Are we ready to demand, command and understand that we’re not going to stop until it’s done? […] Some of us are not sure what we can do. This is not a black thing – this is an ‘us’ thing. This is not about ‘their’ city or ‘their’ state. This is about our city and our state. […] You don’t have to be going through what we are going through to know that this is downright wrong and something has got to change. […] Right now, right here is just the beginning.”
Rev. Daeho Kim of the Sandol Presbyterian Korean Church in Pine Brook was equally passionate.
“Coming here and listening to my friends speaking about their experiences, I feel speechless,” he said. “I am not white, I am not black. I am here because I am a human being.”
Kim said he and his children had been victims of racism but admitted that he was part of the problem as well. He spoke of the daughter of a church member going to the grocery store and someone cursing her out – yet no one said anything to stop it.
“She won’t go to the grocery store anymore,” he said. “It was the first time she felt like this was not her home, even though she was born here, raised here, went to an elite college, and thought her whole life she was an American. She was shocked and traumatized. It bothers me that people around her did nothing.”
In the scripture, Kim said, the people of God in Egypt were beaten and repressed by authorities, and God sent Moses with the message, “Let my people go.”
“Today I hear God’s voice; God is saying to me: I see my people have been suffocated by racism, inequality, poverty and neglect,” Kim said. “I hear God’s voice today: ‘Let my people breathe!’”
Organizer of the vigil Gul Khan, who is coordinator/founder of Different Faiths One Family Interfaith Group and coordinator for Morris County Islamic Centers (JMIC, ICMC and ISNJ), read excerpts of statements from the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, and Montville Twp. Police Chief Andrew Caggiano, whose statement can be read here.
Other speakers at the vigil included:
- Imam Basel Hamdel of the Jam-e Masjid Islamic Center of Boonton
- Montville Township Committee Members June Witty and Matt Kayne
- Pastor Donald Kirschner of the United Methodist Church of Boonton and Montville
- Rev. Rod Williams of Fountain Baptist Church in Summit
- Rabbi Mark Finkel of Pine Brook Jewish Center
- Rev. Leah Ennis of First Reformed Church in Boonton
- Father Martin Bradtkes of St. Pius X Church in Montville
- Rev. Tom Henion of Montville Reformed Church in Montville
- Pastor Debra Duke of Community Church of Mountain Lakes
- Shari Schwartz, President of OneMontville
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