More than 150 residents turned out for a black youth-led vigil Sunday night that drew attention to police brutality and racism in the community and around the country – an in-person vigil that was in response to the City’s online vigil last week that some youth organizers felt didn’t convey the right message for black residents.
“It is important everyone is here for us so we have things for us and by us,” said organizer Fanelson Monexant. “Without that, we will be silenced. In times of crisis, we see our voices trivialized. We see people speak for us.”
Sabine Jacques said there were many who thought the young people couldn’t have a protest or vigil without violence or trouble. She said that was something folks should think about.
“There were concerns about having this vigil today,” she said. “Check your implicit biases Everett…Check your racism Everett. We are constantly being spoken for as if we aren’t experts of our own truth. I’m sorry, but that online vigil was a disgrace. No one from the community was asked to be part of it. This is community. Our voices, our breath and our lives matter.”
But beyond the genesis of the vigil, the purpose was to peacefully inform the community about how black people in Everett are really feeling, particularly the young folks between the ages of 15 and 30. Many said they had grown up in Everett, and some shared negative experiences they have had in the community and with the police. They said it is something they want to stop hand in hand with members of all races aligned along the same cause.
However, without them being out in front and leading it, the worry is that their voices and experiences – at times uncomfortable for some – will be watered down or minimized.
“This isn’t about blacks against whites or everyone against the cops,” said Carolina Penaflor. “It’s about everyone against racism. We’re not trying to start a race war; we’re trying to end one.”
The vigil featured a tasteful and simple array of photos of black people who had been shot and killed by police in recent months, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. The array featured candles next to each picture, and during the vigil, organizers told the stories of who the victims were before they were killed. It was an effort to show they were real people and not just catchy “hashtags” on social media.
“These people have become hashtags now and they shouldn’t be,” said Monexant. “They wanted to be teachers and lawyers, husband and fathers. They never will be. And for what? Because of intimidation, bias, threats and racism.”
The vigil also featured several solemn moments, including a community prayer for change by Derby Farncilme, who called for equal treatment and that leaders would be open to hearing the truth from all parts of the community. There was also a moment of silence that lasted eight minutes and 46 seconds to memorialize the time that George Floyd was held down by Minneapolis (MN) Police before he became unresponsive and ultimately died.
The vigil was then opened up to the public, and several young people of color – and some in their late 20s or early 30s – performed poetry, spoken word pieces, and more importantly, personal experiences.
Rothsaida Sylvaince – an EHS graduate this year headed to Harvard – said she was torn by the recent events. As an outstanding student, she said she has been known for her achievements with the term “Black Girl Magic.” She said with her parents immigrating from Haiti, it was the land of opportunity despite any racism that existed, but she said to find that success, she has had to disavow herself.
“What I have realized is that I am really a person that adapted to living in a white world by minimizing myself,” she said.
Kim Walsh – a former student at the Pioneer Charter School – recalled being 14 and waiting for her sister in front of the Everett school in her school uniform. She said someone called the police on her, and Everett officers responded and told her she had to leave. She said she was waiting for her sister, but she indicated Police didn’t seem to care and threatened to arrest her.
She said they affirmed that it was because she was black.
Now 21 and in college, she said those things are over.
“Not anymore,” she said. “You have messed with the last generation. This is lasting change. It doesn’t stop when Black Lives Matter isn’t trending anymore. This won’t stop.”
Emeka Amoge said he was refreshed to see real community come together on the issue.
“If there’s one good thing that’s come of all this, it is this that we see here in front of us – community,” he said. “You may not know it, but you’re creating a better future for your kids.”
Monexant said the young people are not at a point to let things slide, or normalize, in any way.
“People who claim to be color blind only see blue, definitely not black, and certainly not red,” he said. “I repeat, the seemingly fresh wounds we feel today are Centuries old.”