By Adway S. Wadekar, Contributing Writer
Westborough – At this moment in time, tensions are high in the United States. In the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, tensions caused by the state of race have been exacerbated by the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks. In response to these killings, protests in support of racial equality have occurred in towns and cities all across the nation.
In Westborough, before the shooting of Rayshard Brooks on June 12 in Atlanta, GA, an anti-racism solidarity vigil was held at the Bay State Commons. The event which was organized by Alla Baranovsky, a town resident, drew hundreds of people. It featured speakers from religious backgrounds, speakers of color, and poems written and read by Westborough’s youth. On June 20, another protest was held in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This time, the protest was fully organized by teenagers who live in Westborough.
Claire Lord, one of the organizers of the protest and a student at Westborough High School, noted one particular reason why they felt it was important.
“Our town is deep rooted in systemic racism, as most other places are in America. We decided to have a protest because showing up to a vigil is great, but ending your work there is performative,” she said. “Performative activism is when you do something to help others that is made to benefit you. This protest was about effective and real change in our town, our schools, and in our beliefs. The vigil was amazing, and everyone needs to take it another step forward, and then keep going. We cannot stop once we’ve shown up. We need to show up, unlearn racist tendencies, relearn the way our world works, and act.”
Lord also stressed the importance of young people becoming more and more politically active.“It is crucial for youth to get involved in activism. We have seen real change through protesting, and that is why we continue,” she said. “The youth today were born into a life of racism and white supremacy, and we see how wrong this is. Young people all over the world are organizing these protests, and we need everyone’s help to change laws, pass bills, and change the way law enforcement is as it stands today.”
Lord and her co-organizers planned the event in only two weeks. In order to do so, they sought approval from the Westborough Police Department and spoke directly with school administration. Permit applications were currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the organizers went through the police.
“We talked to them for a while about how many officers would be there and what purpose they would serve,” Lord said. “They were present for traffic direction and only traffic direction. We were not aware of another way to safely hold this march, and therefore we worked with the police.”
At the Commons, several students shared reflections about the state of race in the United States.
Nanayaa Dadzie shared thoughts on what the Westborough Public Schools and the citizens of Westborough could do to counter racist behavior. Aliza Majid, a Muslim-American expressed how she has experienced racism by students and faculty members. She further described the “silence” that is entrenched in Westborough’s history.
Isabelle Washington described how being biracial in America has been incredibly difficult for her. Specifically, she discussed how she felt like she was not fully accepted by neither the Black nor the White communities. Krithi Krishna, now a student at the University of Rochester, shared that while Asian Americans like herself have experienced some degree of racial bias, it was negligible compared to the systemic oppression and dehumanization that has been experienced by African Americans in the United States. She called on Asian Americans to be allies to the Black community.
Elizabeth Hopkinson, a student at Yale College and an alumna of Westborough High School, urged participants in the protest to sign an open letter to the leaders of Westborough Public Schools. The letter calls for a “holistic review of [WPS’s] curriculum, hiring processes, disciplinary procedures, and administration in search of areas of improvement related to equity and racial justice”, anti-racist education in elementary school, and mandated implicit bias training among other requests.
The protest ended with an eight minute and forty-six second moment of silence, in which those who were able were encouraged to take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The length of the moment of silence was in honor of George Floyd, the time a Milwaukee police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck while he was in custody of the police. Floyd died later that night after resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.