Hopewell Valley youth organized a local protest to rally support for the valley’s Black community and people of color.
The Stand in Solidarity protest held at the intersection of West Delaware Avenue and Route 31 in Pennington, gathered people of all ages and demographics within the valley. Protestors would hold signs up on the sidewalks of each corner of the intersection, as they pushed for action on the issues of racial discrimination and police violence.
“There are problems here right in Hopewell Valley. A lot of people think we are OK because we are northern municipalities,” said Ethan Block, one of the organizers of the peaceful protest event. “We have a lot of systemic racism. Take for instance, the Hopewell Township Police Department. Chief Lance Maloney lets racism run rampant within the police department and does not do anything about it and the township committee does not hold him accountable,” he claimed.
Block, who is from Pennington and a graduate of Hopewell Valley Central High School, added that Hopewell Valley has systemic issues that plague the municipalities and school district.
“The Hopewell Valley Regional School Board of Education and school system actively segregates students. I can count the number of Black people in our high school on two hands. We are an extremely segregated community,” Block said. “We live in a bubble and serious changes need to come to the valley.”
Block explained that people in each generation have to be involved to help enact change.
“It cannot just be young people and can’t just be people from older generations. This movement has to have us all involved. All ages, colors, sexual orientations have to get in on this,” Block said. “Diversity makes a better place.”
Most cars passing by the demonstration would go on to honk in support, but some voiced their displeasure at the rally as they shouted “All Lives Matter” and “Support the Police.”
The Stand in Solidarity demonstration was part of peaceful protests continuing throughout New Jersey. The social justice rallies were sparked in the state and across the country after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
“I am hoping this current movement reaches a small town level to go along with the national. It is very easy for us to be in this Hopewell and Pennington bubble and watch all of this happening,” said Michelle Miller, organizer of Stand in Solidarity. “We need large scale change in our small towns.
Whether the changes be educational, curriculum based, hiring practice changes or police department changes, Miller said those changes will need to be addressed moving forward.
“Demonstrations are important for seeing lasting change and impacts in local communities. By going through the grassroots level impacts can be made locally,” she said. “In future weeks and months we would love to get back out here and have more people and signs.”
A leadership team of eight individuals worked to get the demonstration organized for June 20. They are Romina Kalmeijer, Alicia Galiano, Alex Franzino, Ethan Block, Michelle Miller, Anshu Sinha, Ariana Cruz, and Rebecca Kalmeijer. The protest was designed to raise awareness and encourage more conversations for change, according to organizers.
Simmi Tahr, Pennington, said her experience growing up in Pennington was a driving factor in showing up at the demonstration.
“I grew up here and was one of very few people of color here. The lack of understanding and empathy people had was very frustrating, and I am not even African American,” Tahr said. “It is even worse for African Americans.”
She added that she would like to see changes in laws to protect people of color in Hopewell Valley, laws that rein in police and better school understanding of the human experience.
Hopewell resident Susan Clarke joined in the protest at the intersection because she said change has been 400 years too late.
“We have been so complicit and I am so ashamed. I lived through the 1960s and we marched then, but we did not do enough,” she said. “Seeing young people out here today is thrilling for me. Black rights and Black lives are so precious and made this country. The violence by police and white supremacists is just so unacceptable.”
When speaking about police departments Clarke pointed to effective policing policies as a way to help make change.
“I am not for defunding entire police departments but you have to find effective ways to truly have community policing in all neighborhoods. I also believe people need to live in the cities and municipalities that they work in,” she said. “For example, you can’t live in Hopewell and be a cop in Trenton.”
Stand in Solidarity will hold another rally from 1-3 p.m. on June 27 at the same location.