Anaya Brentumi made her speaking debut at the Black Lives Matter Vigil in Fredericton on June 3, 2020. “I have strong opinions and would like to share them,” she told the crowd.
The 13-year-old middle school student is from a mixed race family and admits to having struggled while growing up in New Brunswick: “I haven’t felt that the people around me were the most open-minded.”
Around 600 people of all ages crowded onto the New Brunswick Legislature green with placards to listen to speakers, cheer and show their solidarity for the movement. Brentumi was one of many people who expressed their frustrations, realities and hopes. The rally was organized by Fredericton activist Scuro Acheson in conjunction with the New Brunswick African Association.
A speaker who goes only by his first name, Léonce, announced at the beginning, “we are here to talk about our own lives” and added “there are people who feel uncomfortable about talking about this kind of stuff but I don’t.”
Indeed, according to organizers, some speakers cancelled at the last minute because of threats relayed on social media: “somebody threatened to drive through the crowd.” The NB Media Co-op wasn’t able to confirm the origin of this threat.
Mike O’Brien, the Mayor of Fredericton, also initially send a statement to the organizers then retracted it at the last minute. Acheson did not get an explanation and deplored the absence of “people in power” from the event, despite invitations.
Speaker Josiah Gado, a graduate of the University of New Brunswick who works for McCain Foods, said there is a misperception in Canada that “racism stops at the border” with the United States.
Gado proceeded to give the crowd more information on the history of People of Colour in Canada and notable Black North Americans. Gado mentioned Fredericton’s own Willie O’Ree and Nova Scotia’s Viola Desmond, who “refused to be nice and polite, she decided to do what was right.”
Like Gado, Brentumi told the crowd: “I will educate those who want to be educated.” Former Saint Thomas University Student Union President Husoni Raymond reiterated that the people present: “go home, read about the history (…) educate each other.”
Another speaker, Yusuf Shire, president of the New Brunswick African Association, mentioned the recent incidents of racism in the province, including racist slurs during the Moncton Black Lives Matter March and the xenophobic threats to the Campbellton doctor who contracted Covid-19.
Shire told the crowd: “We need to wake up and hold everyone accountable.” This was echoed by another participant who specifically mentioned police force responsibility: “cops: all we need from you is accountability.”
Participant Godfroid Basubire who immigrated six years ago from Burundi declared: “If you go inside my body, I’m the same as you,” a sentiment echoed by participant Jared Durelle who led the crowd in an exercise of inhaling and exhaling, for breath is life.
Brentumi asserted: “I am a proud Black woman. I’ll never stop being proud of who I am” despite being called “the N word” from first grade on. She encouraged the crowd to “fight this fight” with her.
Owan Ahuka, a hotel employee for whom this was also their first protest, said: “what we ask is justice and peace. We want our voice to be heard.”
The event wrapped up with a march around the Legislature, chants and an open mic where people present were able to share their experiences.
More Black Lives Matter protests are planned, including an event called “Take a Knee, Take a Stand” to be held on Friday, June 5 at 5:00pm at the New Brunswick Legislature.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture and is an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.