SPRINGFIELD, NJ — In the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of officers in the Minneapolis Police Department, communities all over the country have taken to the streets in protest. Over the weekend in Springfield, residents did just that, marching from Florence M. Gaudineer Middle School to the lawn of the municipal building.
The march and rally followed another event, held two weeks ago, when Springfield residents attended a vigil at Meisel Field. While the focus of that event was reconciliation and peaceful dialogue, this event was focused on action and forward movement, according to those in charge of organizing it.
One of those organizers was Elyssa Pollack, who help to co-organize the march alongside her friends and fellow Jonathan Dayton Alumni Francesca Petruzzella, Julie Pica, Nikki Athan, Mary Athan, Herlide Joseph, Lea Ginefra and Jessica B., who asked that her last name not be used.
Pollack explained that the genesis for the march and rally happened after the last rally, as a way of trying to keep the momentum going in town.
"After the vigil, me and Jess got together," Pollack said. We were like, 'okay, this is a good start, but we really need to continue the conversation. It doesn't end here. It doesn't end with the thought that we're okay'
"Springfield is a great town, but we need to show how great we are, show that we can do better, show that we are going to stand with Black lives, show that Black lives to matter, and we want to bring more light to experiences and voices of the Black community [...] we need systemic change on all levels. Locally in Springfield, nationwide, and we want to show that Springfield stands with the Black Community."
She also explained how the group came together, with each co-organizer taking on a specific role in planning the protest march and rally. That included setting up a voter registration table at Gaudineer, sourcing water and snacks to keep attendees from passing out, and contacting the ACLU to help talk to the county and get Mountain Avenue closed for the march.
As the march started, the group, some 200 marchers strong left Gaudineer and turned onto South Springfield Avenue, moving northbound onto Mountain Avenue and making the walk to the lawn of the Springfield Municipal Building. As the march reached its conclusion, attendees found spots on the lawn, and listened to organizers and speakers talk about what still needs to be done.
One of those marching in the protest was Manny Ofodike, a Springfield resident and former student at Jonathan Dayton High School
"This makes me feel [the] unity," Ofodike said. "I feel like that's what we needed the most right now. This really isn't a race thing, this is a police brutality thing [...] Seeing the unity here, seeing that people acknowledge that this is happening is so powerful.
"As a Black person, seeing this happen right now feels so good to me. I felt alone [...] but seeing this is so inspiring. Knowing that there are people out there that can say that even though they're not Black they can feel me and that they can understand me and that they'll fight for me is so helpful."
At the rally portion of the event, attendees heard from multiple speakers, including New Jersey Senate candidate Lawrence Hamm. Hamm, the founder and chairman of the People's Organization for Progress (POP) is running against Cory Booker in this year's Democratic primary.
For Hamm, who came of age in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, the youth influx powering the protest was the key for him.
"I see a wonderful thing," Hamm said. "I see it's wonderful that all these young people have come out here in the spirit of unity to fight for justice. This is what we need all across New Jersey and all across America."
He also noted that the biggest challenge for the organizers moving forward would be to sustain their activity in the following months and years.
At the end of the event, Pollack was asked about her immediate reaction to the group's planning coming to fruition. She noted that it made her proud to see the Springfield community come together.
"I feel like it couldn't have gone any better," Pollack said. "I'm so happy and heart warmed by the amount of people that came out here today to fight with us all in this fight towards change, this fight against racism. I think that the support was incredible, the speakers were so powerful and did an amazing job, and just love to all.