About 250 protesters marched along Sackville’s Main Street on Friday to the town hall where they held an anti-racism rally and knelt in silence for eight minutes in memory of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.
The march and rally were organized by the Black Students’ Union and the Caribbean Students’ Union at Mount Allison University.
The protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “When Black lives are under attack, stand up and fight back.”
They also carried placards asking, Why is ending racism a debate? And, where do we turn when police murder?!
The Story of Us
Outside town hall, Mount Allison Black Student Advisor Ivan Okello read a poem called “The Story of Us” that he said explored how he and people who look like him have been feeling over the last couple of weeks. His poem began:
This is the story of us — immigrants
Coming from five different lands
Searching for what we cannot find — home
Living, working, studying
We are welcomed, but not accepted
Okello thanked people for participating in the march and rally.
“I hope you continue to see injustice within our communities,” he said as he urged people to use their powers to educate and to liberate.
“What can each of us do?” he asked.
He suggested that there are many ways to answer that question depending on individual circumstances, but education is always crucial.
“Ask yourself, what bias do you have against black people,” Okello said.
“If you’ve never heard about racism, ask someone who says they have experienced racism. If they tell you, then you’ll know and they’ll tell you how to help,” he added.
Gloria Farah, who described herself as a person of colour, said there’s a need for everyone to stand against racism.
“It’s true that we are different colours, but if you go deep inside, we have the same blood colour, we have the same heart, everything is the same from the inside.”
Two Mount Allison students from the Caribbean spoke about feeling unwelcome in Sackville when they first arrived.
“When we first came here, we were expecting welcoming arms,” said Toni-Anne Dixon. “But it turned out that some people aren’t [welcoming], so it was kind of a shock to us, so we really appreciate everyone coming here,” she added.
“This means that you understand what’s going on and you see the need to make a change.”
“This is the colour of our skin, we can’t change who we are,” Khandra Barrett told the rally.
“We don’t want to change who we are,” she added. “It’s really hard if you’re trying to be yourself and you’re not accepted or welcomed.”
Barrett also thanked people for their support and for giving black people a voice.
Time to spark action
Arianna Woodley, who helped organize the rally and march, said she hadn’t expected such a big crowd on a rainy Friday afternoon, but was glad to see so much support in a town where international students often hear racial slurs or get followed around in stores as suspected thieves.
“I had a friend actually, she applied to a job and they said, ‘We don’t need people like you’ and she was like, ‘What do you mean?’” Woodley said. “And they’re like, ‘Well, it doesn’t really attract the right crowd.’”
Woodley, who came to Canada from Anguilla, has since graduated from Mount Allison with a degree in geography and aviation.
“We need to do more than just say we’re standing in solidarity, it’s time to actually spark action,” she said.
Bruce Wark worked in broadcasting and journalism education for more than 35 years. He was at CBC Radio for nearly 20 years as senior editor of network programs such as The World at Six and World Report. He currently writes for The New Wark Times where an earlier version of this story first appeared.