WESTFIELD, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy and Rep. Tom Malinowski knelt alongside 2,000 people in Mindowaskin Park on Sunday, a part of a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, spurred by the death of George Floyd.
Spearheaded by Westfield High School junior Nala Scott, 16, and fellow students, the rally far exceeded organizer’s expectations, with throngs of people clustered in Mindowaskin Park and politicians of all ranks coming to support the movement.
“When I first started this, I thought this would be 30 teenage girls with a small speaker at Mindowaskin Park protesting for black lives,” Scott said.
The local and regional leaders stood at the bandstand to speak out against racial injustice and Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer Derek Chauvin.
“We are in this fight for you,” Murphy told protestors. “Even though our generation didn’t get it done, you will get it done, and we’ll stand with you every step of the way.”
Both Murphy and Malinowski — the latter of which is up for reelection this fall — touted their political achievements and made promises. Murphy discussed nominating Fabiana Pierre-Louis, the first African-American woman to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court and Malinowski promised to work on legislation to reform police.
“[Policing] depends on trust,” Malinowski said. “It depends on trust between police officers and the community they serve. Right now, it’s absent in many parts of America, and it makes everybody less safe.”
Local students led the main event, decrying racism and advocating for change. Many detailed their personal experiences of racial inequality in Westfield, being harassed by police or being told they did not “act black.” Some thought local institutions fell short in addressing racial issues.
“The Westfield School district has failed me over and over again, for over a decade,” Scott told the crowd. Saying Westfield schools did not do enough to discipline students who used racial slurs, Scott gave an ultimatum to the public schools.
“I'm not going into that school senior year fearing for my safety,” she said. “I’m not going to walk into that school fearing I'm going to get bullied again.”
Mayor Shelley Brindle, who leads one of Union County’s most upscale towns, encouraged the dialogue. Brindle herself said that Westfield has a difficult past with racial injustices, from redlining to being “complicity silent” during the civil rights movement.
“I hope that this protest here today and those around the country and around the world will help our community of color finally be able to tell us their stories and struggles,” Brindle said.
She added: “I hope our community will finally have the courage to really listen — even if it means exposing vulnerabilities and imperfections.”
Others, though, took a step back to look at racial inequities around the globe and the movement to change it.
“This is not an American centered issue,” said Kunle Badmus, a Westfield High School senior. “This is a global issue and millions of people have joined the fight.”
Despite the serious dialogue of race and privilege, a group of students banded together for a performance of “We are the world” as the rally died down. People also took to the stage to give impromptu speeches and anecdotes of racism in the area. Some, though, had hope that change would be on its way.
“I know everyone here is going to leave here hearing me and knowing that [ignorance] is wrong,” Scott said. “You need to call these people out, not to be rude, but [so they have] ability to grow.”
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