WOODBRIDGE – A group of township high school and college students took a stand, calling for an end to anti-blackness and the act of complicity when it comes to racism following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, an African American man, died after Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin, a white man, knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes after pinning him to the ground during an arrest on May 25. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder on May 29. Three other officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, were charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s murder on June 3.
The group reached out to Mayor John McCormac to hold the rally. They urged people to not let the recent protests be just a phase or convenience at this time and to get out to vote, educate and advocate to fix a broken system during a peaceful protest and rally at Parker Press Park on June 7.
Pastor Neva Lawson of First Baptist Church in Sewaren served as the rally’s keynote speaker. He told the crowd he was born in North Carolina, went to a segregated school and was told he would not go to college.
Lawson said it’s important not to fall into the philosophy of “live and let live.”
“The more accepted philosophy is ‘live and help live’,” he said. “I want you to pursue your dreams, I want you to have a successful career, but your children and your generation are counting on you to make the changes that are necessary so live and help live.”
Lawson said he apologizes to the current generation for letting them down in some areas.
“I’m sorry I don’t see everything the way you feel, but I want you to realize years have groomed me and years have leveled me out,” he said. “To me it’s a blessing to be able to stand and look at this crowd, look at all his God’s children and how he’s brought us all together. Look at the harmony in this place. When you march, you are not marching alone. There were generations that went before and generations that gave their lives. You are marching for them … you’re marching for your own children and the generations that come after them. So keep on marching and keep on protesting … realize that we are all in this together and by Almighty God, we shall all be free.”
The crowd chanted “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter” as they walked down Main Street, Amboy Avenue and Green Street. The crowd also chanted the names of those who have recently been allegedly killed along with Floyd, including Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March; and Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, who was allegedly killed by a white father and son as he was running through their Georgia neighborhood in February.
Many people who attended the peaceful protest and rally held signs, which read “Vote Racism Out,” “Silence is Violence,” “Watch your six, it’s six feet apart, not six feet deep,” “If you think your mask makes it hard to breathe, imagine being black in America,” and “To be silent is to be complicit.”
The group of high school and college students also spoke about their experiences with racism growing up not only in the township, but in the classroom.
Schools Superintendent Robert Zega, through his weekly message to parents on June 5, said he sent out a letter in response to correspondence he received about Floyd.
“The letter outlines from the school district’s perspective what we need to do and how we need to address this moving forward,” he said. “Basically the spirit of the letter is it’s not enough to teach children not to hate or not to harass other people because they’re different. It’s not enough to teach children that that’s wrong. What we need to do is we need to teach our young people how to actively eliminate hate, it’s not enough not just to do as an individual, we need to try to stop other people from doing it in a non-violent manner, but effective manner. If it means the protests that are going on then that’s what we need to do. As a school district we need to show our students the historic importance of social demonstrations … our students want to be heard, our students need to be heard, and out students will be heard on these matters.”
Zega said he looks forward to forming relationships with students to cultivate ideas they have.
“[The students] will be the ones to change tomorrow, not the teachers,” he said.