NEWTON, NJ—Approximately 100 people gathered at Hillside Park in Andover for a peaceful Black Lives Matter Rally last Saturday.
Despite the heat, from noon to three, a dozen people spoke, sharing poems, songs and their personal feelings and statements about the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Newton High School 2014 graduates and life-long Andover residents Marina Regolizio and Ryan Mullin organized the event.
“We wanted to do an event like this here because there has never been one in Andover and especially not on this site,” Mullin said.
“My whole thing with wanting to make it happen around here,” Regolizio said “is that in predominantly white areas, people don’t think to learn about diversity when that is exactly when you need to learn about; other people, other cultures and other lived experiences because that is how you promote tolerance and acceptance and you know, solid treatment of human beings in general. That is why I think Sussex county is very important in all of this, Deon Williams and Naomi Zoko were the pioneers for Newton, and so we’re just following their trend too.”
The park was chosen, according to Mullin and Regolizio because of the historical background, as it was the site of Camp Nordland, a German-owned youth camp, that promoted Nazi values and invited Ku Klux Klan members as guests in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Mullin noted that there were times in his childhood that he would be walking around the park and see the old camp remnants.
“Many of you know the reason why I called for it to be here," Mullin said. “Many of you know the history, but in case you don’t, now you will."
Mullin explained that for much of the 1930s and up until 1941, Hillside Park was the site of the Great American Bund, while under the former moniker Camp Nordland.
"They marched in droves by the buildings in the back woods, draped Nazi flags over American flags. They did the Nazi salute and had countless representation of hate and despicable ideologies right here where we stand. They were a nuisance to a small town that was even smaller back then. The town banned them in 1939 and in 1941 on Memorial Day, they officially shut down.
"It wasn’t just Nazi’s. It was white supremacists; they used this land to strengthen all their messages. The reason we are here today is because we cannot remove the stains on our history no matter how painful they are- we cannot ignore them. Everyone knows the adage about being doomed to repeat history if you don’t know it and I don’t want to feed into that. I feel that it is incumbent upon us as a community to strike a middle ground in between ignoring its existence and the presence on the neighbor that it has and expunging it completely.
"Instead, I think that we should attempt to create a new more inclusive and loving and amazing representation that we have here. I racked my brain on the perfect way to encapsulate all of this and then I realized, what we’re doing... What we stand for here and what we strive to achieve is the very antithesis of everything they tried to achieve and it will always be that way. There is truly no better way to exemplify our committal to being better in every capacity than the roots from which this town has grown from, painful roots, but there is no better way to be a part of what we are doing here today.”
In addition to Mullin, Regolizio, Scott Paul, Lorant Mena, Rachael White, Allison Powers, Olivia Webster, Lauren Rabbit, Abigail Rabbit, and Zoe Heath all took the microphone to address the crowd.
Paul, serving as Master of Ceremonies, spoke a number of times between speakers. He noted “this isn’t a black thing, a brown thing, a white thing; it’s a people thing and clearly that’s how you guys feel and that’s why you’re here.” He also discussed changes that have occurred since the death of George Floyd:
- Employment practices- the US Army removed photos from officer promotion boards, because "I guess seeing pictures of how other people looked influenced how people were getting promoted."
- Flags- all military bases and NASCAR have removed the confederate flag
- Monuments and statues of confederate leaders and solders have been taken down- "these people that just represent oppression, were talking about people who laid their life on the line to ensure that other people could be slaves and we made statues of them decades after they died."
- Names of a number of schools that were named after confederate leaders are being changed
- Police reforms and legislation "to change the way police officers can go about doing their job in a not killing people kind of way which is kind of cool, I guess."
- Television- "they are making more effort to have the right representation even in voice actors."
“The list goes on and on because our voices are getting louder, because our voices have come together. One person can’t do it, two people can’t do it but all of us together, we can really make some changes,” Paul said.
Town Councilman Matthew Dickson was there in support of his stepdaughter, Olivia Webster, who spoke during the Newton rally and the Andover rally.
“I support her wanting to speak up for what she believes in and I think it gives me a lot of perspective as well, to be more open and listen and try to understand more in general about things," Dickson said. "To take a harder look at things. So often now, there is dissension and not wanting to have discussions. Its either everyone’s on one side or another. It's nice to be able to listen and talk and learn more and I think more people should do it."
Webster, who was the final speaker of the event, spoke with Tapinto Newton prior to the event. She explained the reason why, at her age, she is attending the rallies and what they have meant to her personally.
“I’m bi-racial and live with my white family, but my dad and brothers are black," Webster said. "So looking at George Floyd and then looking at little kids being killed for this stuff I just got to thinking that could very well be my brother or someone I love. I worry about them all the time and it made me realize that this is not something that I can just sit by and let happen.
"I have amazing supportive parents who have pushed me to speak up for what I believe in and I feel like if you want something to change you can’t just sit down and wait for it, you have to stand up and be part of it and right now with everything happening in the country, history is being made and when our kids are learning about this I don’t want to have to tell them ‘oh I didn’t do anything’.”
Regolizio took her time at the microphone to talk about inclusion and the need for more cultural diversity.
“And so, it is here in small towns, where we have the least representation of minority groups that we need to educate ourselves on lived experiences beyond what we see right in front of us. Racism is not simply a mean dude yelling at you, it is structures and rules in our society that play an impact in everyday life. It’s the woman who followed my brown cousin around the clothing store. It’s the way my classmate whispered the word 'black,' as if it was a bad word. It’s the way my sorority sister strived for saneness and elite-ness, over uniqueness and loving ourselves. It’s in actions. It’s in language and it’s in our infrastructure. So, fighting for equity does not end with this rally.
"The word equity was not a typo. The word equity was chosen for a reason, it is about the fair treatment and the access, opportunities and advancement for all people and actively identifying and eliminating barriers that have prevented certain groups participation in that. So, join us today in trying to knock down some of those barriers, let us connect now and in the future as friends and family, as community members within this area and beyond. Let us celebrate and learn from each other, our backgrounds and our interests. Let us share stories, music, poetry, art, connections, and people that have inspired us to be the best versions of ourselves and fight against anyone who has made anyone feel anything less. So, lets fight for Black lives, equity, and justice. Let us create space for inclusion and diversity. Let us show the world that we will always choose love over hate every time.”
The names of the black trans lives that have ended in 2020 because of racism, both police brutality and hate crimes, according to Regalizio, were read aloud. Those in attendance kneeled and had a moment of silence.
- Monica Diamond
- Brian “Egypt” Powers
- Brayla Stone
- Merci Mack
- Shaki Peters
- Draya McCarty
- Brie Black
- Dior H Ova
- Queasha D Hardy
- Riah Milton
- Dominique "Rem’mie" Fells
- Amani Kildea
- Gloria Bambo
- Ahmad Arbury
- Trayvon Martin
“Maybe the most saddening thing about it is the fact that those names that you listed are just the ones we know of," Paul said. “Elijah McClain, it’s hard for me to even talk about that one, but we wouldn’t have even known about Elijah McClain if it wasn’t for George Floyd. That is why it’s important to be out here, it’s important that we protest, it’s important that we are [angry], you know.”
Led by Paul, the voices of the crowd chanting “The people united, will never be defeated” echoed in the far back woods of Hillside Park.
Mena shared song lyrics from a song that he wrote titled “Free” and ended with the final portion of Malcom X’s speech at Oxford University
“Free- see me and you are not alike, I fast for 40 days and 40 nights, cleanse my soul, behold, the light, free, try to tell me how I’m living, open the doors of perception to see something different, why are we so indifferent, to demise, desensitize, and distant. Free to embrace the moment, and the motion of your emotion rolling through the ruins devoted to find the light that flows through me, when I’m zoning, I gotta get it running with it like its stolen, I’m on a mission to win against my opponent, this Malcolm’s vision, this skin is golden, who you kidding, we was chosen, the world’s teachers, the secrets unfolding. Free- that’s what we talking, ancestor’s watching, we steady, locked in, to the matrix, brainwashed, this time we aint stopping, til we get to the light, I’m talking free, see you and me are not alike, I fast for 40 days and 40 nights cleanse my soul, behold, the light, free.”
White, also a life-long Andover resident spoke about how the location of the rally once stood for the exact opposite reason they were gathered there on Saturday.
“But regardless of what may have happened here 80 years ago, I feel pride in my town," White said. "A town that I have resided in for 22 years organizing an event like this. I feel proud that were advocating for something that may not affect everyone directly. You may think that well we don’t have that problem here, not in my town, yet we’re still using the resources available to us to incite change and bring awareness. And in the midst of chaos in our world, in the media, or even in our own lives, it’s crucial to speak out against injustice, even when met with adversity. It's essential to have those conversations with people who may or may not think like you do, who have trouble seeing significance in why we rally, who simply cannot relate. But silence is not an option, being compliant is not an option and if you’re uncomfortable with the things you see or get upset with what you hear going on in the world around us- good, because police brutality should make everyone uncomfortable. Enough is enough and what we’re doing here right now is how we start to make a change.
"Talking about it and making it known that we will not stand for it. This movement is more than posting a black square on your Instagram, or re-tweeting something that someone already said, for me personally, its making sure that someone I love is not the next George Floyd or Sandra Bland, so someone that you care about or I care about doesn’t become the next trending hashtag or next headline, or center for debate. It’s about making sure that my future children and your future children do not have to grow up in a world where they will be judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.
"Let me be clear, it is not about us versus them, it is about right versus wrong and basic human decency. And the fight does not stop today, or tomorrow, or the day after that, yes your Facebook, twitter, and Instagram feeds may have returned to their normal programming, but that does not mean pump the brakes, this is not a one-time thing. I ask you not to go home tonight and say, ‘well I did my part’ and be done. Just like all things in life, it is easy to do the bare minimum and ignore the problem. I will leave you with this, hate will never win, hate will not make America great, equality will always win, solidarity will always win, and love will always win.”
While many of the speakers shared their personal stories and experiences with those in attendance, people like Mena, Paul and Powers shared poems and songs that they wrote themselves on the topic.
Powers, who said it was truly a blessing to be at the rally, started her speech with a poem to honor black lives.
“We come to this barn, where there’s been 80 years of hate. But now we’re here to determine out fate. A man who wants to make America great, well I think he might be a little too late. Ode to the poem that spread in May, I am not black but I see you, this is what I’m here to say. I’m not black and I can’t ignore that fact that there are Nazi shacks right in the back. I’m not black and I’m here to say, the racism and bigotry stops today. I’m not black and I’m a woman, I’ve had my share of violence, but I won’t be silenced. Back to black lives. How much should it cost to support all the people’s beautiful lives that we have lost. We stand here today, and we’re here to say that we’re sick of people casually commit brutality like racism is a fallacy and their entitled to black bodies. I have had friends break down and tell me their tired of feeling afraid to exist. What does it mean to matter? We are ready to shatter the bigotry, patriarchy and this backwards hierarchy. To matter means to be of importance, to have significance. I think it’s time we make a difference. Let us hold our head high look to heaven and why because we’ll get there someday. Let us pave our own way.”
Paul stepped up to the microphone next, talking about a text he has received from Lauren Rabbit earlier that morning. In the text, she wrote some of her favorite parts from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Letter in a Birmingham Jail.
“It will kill me,” he said after he read the excerpts “if my future kids have to be doing the same thing, you know. It really is so important to know where we came from, what this used to stand for 80 years or so ago and the progress we have made since then but also the progress that we have not made since then. The fact that we can say the same exact words about the same exact issues 50 years later, should [anger] everybody.
He ended his portion with a song that he wrote as well, which was titled, “Time for Change.”
“I swear that we all the same, I wish it was Kaepernick’s knee that sparked the change, they wish that we could go back to the better days, you know back when it was perfect, back when I was three-fifths of a person. Back to present day its like we still ain't the same under the law we walk for brother martin and now we run for Ahmad, the teachers teach us that we can be whatever we believe in but how am I supposed to dream when Breonna Taylor was sleeping. I’m so sick and tired, tired of hiding the pain I got, fire in my veins, we’re still fighting for change. As I think about George Floyd and Elijah McClain. And all the others that can continue dying in vain. Knowing I only get justice if it is recorded and justice only comes to those who can afford it and privilege only comes to those who can ignore it, I wish we could focus on what’s important. What is it going to take for you to see? My skin is not a threat to nobody, all we need is love for us to change a state of mind.”
The second half of the rally was led by the Rabbit family; Mother Lauren and daughter Abigail. Lauren, who also attended the Newton Rally, said a few words, read aloud other parts of King’s letter, quoted the late John Lewis and then led the group in a healing meditation.
“I just want to point out the fact that we can hear the echoes in the trees here, and so to me that is a blessing of this space, it is a reclaiming of this space, and it is a transformation of this space, but like my friend Scott said, it takes every single one of us to keep going and to face being tired and exhausted. We are not going to give up, we can’t. There is still so much to do. Here we are again, gathering together in the highest hope for spreading of love and unity, coming together again, with hopes for realizing and being the agents in the making of the beloved Dr. King’s community. We are here for healing, that is what we all hope to spread today. We are here for the justice that is required for that healing,” she said before the meditation.
She said “stories are so important. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our experiences, about our country and our world define our very lives both as individuals and collectively. Language and words have power to create our reality. That is why it is so important that we keep saying, loudly ‘black lives matter’, that we keep urging others to join us in saying it, speaking it, so that the narrative can change. And that Black lives, Indigenous lives, the lives of People of Color, of the economically disadvantaged, of the LGBTQ community, of any of those who suffer, can truly, finally, and forevermore matter.”
Before she let the group in a Metta meditation, Lauren read a quote from the late John Lewis who stated, “When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say it was our generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So, I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers, and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”
Abigail read an essay that she had written back in December and sent to the Newton Board of Education about the Native American head being the mascot of the Newton High School, she wanted to raise awareness.
“For as long as I have been a part of the Newton community, the idea of having a Native American mascot has felt wrong, specifically one with such a predominant caricatured image that also holds such an important place in the schools identity. Perhaps during this time when as a country, we are recognizing the truth about systemic racism and unconscious implicit bias we can choose to revisit the idea of what having this mascot truly represents and see if it lines up with what we believe about our schools… ‘Brave’, ‘Redskin’, ‘Warrior’, ‘Chief’ nouns you might recognize from a sports team mascot. The Merriam-Webster dictionary deem these as, ‘outdated and offensive terms for Native Americans’ and yet these mascots persist in over 2,000 secondary schools all over the country,” she said.
Abigail noted that “looking around at the students and teachers clad in Newton ‘swag’ and sitting in classrooms staring at the posters and pictures, many bearing this depiction, I feel violated. I am white and though I have no ancestral ties to Indigenous people, it feels deeply wrong…only when we admit that our country has a shameful past and work to hear and tell the whole story, will we be able to be the proud country and school we claim to be. Equality, freedom and liberty are words that our county is built on, but they only mean something when they have been put into action. When we make ourselves vulnerable enough to fight for them to mean the same thing for everyone”.
The final two speakers were Heath and Webster. Heath turned the attention to the LGBTQ community and the solidarity between them and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“For those of you who may not know, the first pride ever was a riot against police brutality started by black transgender women. It is so indicative of how far this country has come, this country did not get women’s voting rights because people sat at home, people fought for it. Black people did not get the right to vote because people sat at home, they fought for it. LGBTQ people did not get the right to marry because we sat at home, we fought for it and not for nothing but at the forefront of every one of those movements, were black women. I see a lot of my LGBTQ friends are not here today, I will see them at pride, but they’re not here today and I’m so concerned of why I keep seeing the same faces here. I see Lauren at all of these, I see Scott at all of these, there have been over five of these in Sussex County alone and where is everybody else? I know it is a pandemic, but we need to be here, we need to be fighting we need to get this through. Because there is no pride for some of us without justice for all of us. I want to leave you with this. Solidarity is everything, I truly want everyone to uplift the voices that we have heard today and the stories we have heard, they will continue here today, and spread the messages, I don’t want what we hear here to not leave here. Everyone here should tell five of their friends, it’s your homework for today. The next time there is one of these, because I’m sure there will be another one, whether it be because we have to or because we need to keep this movement going because I hate to say it like this, George Floyd was not the last one, Breona Taylor was not the last one, and we are not going to stop until there are no more black deaths at the hands of racism and police brutality. No matter what protest you go to, there will always be one thing you will hear,” she said chanting, “show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”
The final speaker, Webster, closed out the rally with her own personal experiences of how life has been for her.
“Growing up in the same house as my white mother and stepfather who are both elected officials in my town, with a whitewashed name and some level of racial ambiguity, and in an area where I can get a good education, I know that I have privilege. And I know that when you have privilege, it's your job to use it to fight for what’s right. However, even with all the privilege I have been granted, I've still been targeted for my race numerous times. I have been told not to be “that” black girl and people frequently make rather offensive comments on my natural hair.
"Peers have even told me that they do not “view me as a black person” which is implicitly racist. Lately, I’ve realized that with everything I've been granted, including the chance to speak with all of you today, if all of this is happening to me, clearly it must be happening to those who haven’t had all the chances I’ve had in life, even in my school. That people around me are being silenced and if my voice is more likely to be heard, I have to use it to advocate for equality and justice for those who can’t. I know that we live in a predominantly white area and maybe some people think that because of that, we don’t need these demonstrations here. But that even more evidence that we do.
"We as a community need to learn to be tolerant and inclusive and teach those who have yet to learn, with patience and compassion, we need to educate ourselves and others because the hard truth is that this stuff does happen here. Even the ground we are standing on right now was once used to push hate and prejudice, which is why it is even more amazing to see so many people standing up for change. More importantly we are all here to get justice for those who can’t, like Breonna Taylor, who today has gone 141 days with justice, Elijah Mcclain who has been gone nearly a year and we are just now saying his name. Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, Philandro Castile and so many more. Their voices were all silenced far too soon so we must use our to fight for them. We must spread kindness, love and understanding and I can’t begin to express how proud I am of our community for fighting and continuing to fight.”
A socially distanced group photo was taken to round out the rally. Mullin and Regalizio donated $471 that was raised at the event to a group called the Common Ground Foundation, whose emphasis is on community, uplifting, art, and working towards bettering communities.
In an interview with Tapinto, Mullin and Regalizio noted that they were “immensely proud of the warmth and graciousness that our community embraced us with today. Every single person in attendance was evidently on the same page: injustice is formidable opponent we must all fight back against, black lives deserve our full and undivided attention, and that art and creativity can and should play a pivotal role in all of this… This is truly only the beginning of this movement in Andover and in Sussex County, and the response we were given today makes us all the more confident that together we will undoubtedly invoke the change we wish to see.”