By Reese Burns, assistant editor
On Friday, June 12th at 5:00 hundreds of people flooded Main Street to attend the Candlelight Vigil for Justice held in remembrance of the black lives that have been taken all over the country. The peaceful protest was hosted by Reverend Linda Simmons from the Unitarian Church and the Nantucket Justice League which includes members Britney Anderson, K’sha Bloise, Liela Marrett, and Johnny Sussek. As supporters made their way to the top of Maine Street, synchronized hand clapping spread throughout the crowd. Most attendees wore masks and some carried signs displaying messages of the movement. The protest lasted about an hour and a half and remained peaceful throughout..
There were a number of speakers of all ages, the youngest speaker being 10-year-old Daniel Richards. In addition, Dr. Khalil Abdur-Rashid, Reverend Bloise, K’sha Bloise, and Brianna Leveille spoke providing listeners with history and ways in which the community can strengthen the movement. Introducing the speakers and taking part in guiding the candle lighting were Sussek and Anderson.
The first speaker, Dr. Abdur-Rashid, is a Muslim Chaplain at Harvard University who devotes his profession to teaching his students Muslim Studies. At the vigil, he talked about what the community needs to do in order to instill change. He repeated throughout a large part of his speech “we have to insist [various positions and institutions] do better” and he stressed the importance of holding public leaders accountable just as much as one may hold themself. Abdur-Rashid mentioned how Fathers’ Day is quickly approaching but how it won’t be a good one for all the families who have lost a father, a daughter, or a son at the hands of our country’s justice system. Furthermore, he claims systematic killing is done openly and blatantly as the nation has witnessed it on camera.
K’sha Bloise, student at George Washington University and Nantucket community member, spoke about her own personal fear for her younger siblings and family members and how they could potentially be directly affected by systemic racism. In another part of her speech, Bloise described an event in school where her history teacher encouraged the class to engage in a debate over the ethics of slavery and even question her silence when she didn’t want to participate.
When asked if she would like to comment on the vigil, Bloise offered her favorite part of her speech, “You came here today because you want unity, you want equality. These things are only achieved through understanding, if you truly want to understand someone who is different from you, you must first accept them. Ask yourself, do you really accept black people? When you’re attending these protests do you feel compelled to speak over or speak for black people instead of listening to our lived experiences? Do you clutch tighter to your purse, your wallet, your child when you pass a Black person on a sidewalk, or enter an otherwise empty elevator? Do you view afros as unkempt or unprofessional? Do you feel the need to be an Amy Cooper and call the police because a Black person is somewhere that you think they have no right to be? Ask yourself: Am I suspicious of a Black man who isn’t wearing a suit and tie? Am I afraid of a Black man who isn’t in handcuffs? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, I challenge you to have the courage to acknowledge and confront these beliefs and work to change them. This change won’t come easily; it takes time and effort to unlearn racial prejudice.”
Leveille, recent Class of 2020 graduate and Nantucket Golf Scholar used her speech to educate the audience about the history of systemic racism. She explains how discrimination in the justice system stemmed from when slave patrollers were first introduced in South Carolina in 1704. In addition, she describes the system of Redlining where certain neighborhoods would be “redlined” so that banks would know to avoid those areas and reject their request for loans. The majority of the areas frequently redlined consisted mostly of black inner city neighborhoods and it is speculated that the maps with redlined neighborhoods still exist today. As a result of this process, Leveille expressed, the so-called “black ghettos” and the stereotype revolving around them evolved. Leveille shared in her speech, “It is sad to say but every time I picture my future and picture having children, I get scared. I get scared because I am black and I am almost giving my child a weapon at birth. Do you know how it feels to think by giving birth to somebody you are putting them at danger? It kills. Living in a world where people don’t understand or don’t know the history is not acceptable anymore. It allows them to stay in ignorance and pretend like it’s not happening.”
The youngest of the speakers, fourth-grader Daniel Richards, read two of his original poems and spoke about his own company, “Motivest” for which he and his mother sold t-shirts for and collected donations following the event. One of Richards’s poems reads, “I am a black boy. I am ten years old. I have seen and heard too many stories been told. They say the police is to protect and serve but I am scared they may put a trigger to my nerve…” In addition to his poems which clearly moved the audience, Richards has his own company. His company, Motivest, stands for “motivate others to tolerate, inspire, value, encourage, and support teamwork.” Richards and his mother collaboratively run this company and have been selling t-shirts at the protests. For more information and ways to support Motivest, follow their instagram page @Motivest2020.
Following all the speeches, the candle lighting ceremony began. Rather than lighting 3 candles in memory of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, 50 candles were lit by 50 different people as they read the name of a victim and rang a bell. Besides the names being read, everything was silent. To conclude the vigil, Reverend Bloise led the crowd in group prayer and made the focus of this prayer the racial discrimination flowing throughout America and the world.
Liela Marrett spoke on behalf of the Justice League and how they felt about the outcome of the candle lighting and said, “all four of us were really happy with the turnout. I thought that the turn out wouldn’t be as big as it was and for that I am thankful. I was really happy with the way everything went.”
You can find highlights of the vigil on the Black Youth’s United Instagram page (@blackyouthsunited) as well as the Inquirer and Mirror’s Youtube channel. To learn more about upcoming protests and events related to the Black Lives Matter movement, follow @TheNantucketJusticeLeague on Instagram where they post updates for the community.