I thank the young people of Hillsboro who planned and conducted the Sunday morning rally in support of Black Lives Matter protests taking place all over the nation and world. It was a thoughtful and respectful showing of this community’s heart. I was impressed by the crowd of young and old, all wearing coronavirus masks, who gathered in the shadow of our town’s unique sculpture of Abraham Lincoln.
After everyone maintained eight minutes and 46 seconds of total silence in witness to George Floyd’s agonizing death at the hands of police, the Rev. Jimmy Hayes delivered a closing prayer that was appreciative and unifying.
In announcing the event on Facebook, organizers wrote: “It may be easy to think that we don’t have these issues in our community so we don’t need to protest. But by seeing what’s happening around our country and not acknowledging that there is a real and serious problem with systemic racism and oppression, we are invalidating the experience of people of color in our community. Instead we want to assure them that we are on their side.”
The next day’s morning broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR) included an interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with Martin Luther King when he was assassinated in 1968, and 90-year-old Josie Johnson, a former U.S. Representative in Minnesota who participated in the March on Washington when Dr. King made his “I have a dream” speech.
These civil rights leaders cited hopeful signs in recent days: the number of white people who marched with people of color; the political power that people of color wield today; and even the conduct of police. While some demonstrations have resulted in conflicts with police, Jackson said that police tactics would have been far more deadly in 1968.
Jesse Jackson: “The fact is, the reason why the police aren’t killing blacks en masse is that we have a different quality of politicians. If we had right-wing militaries, they would be turning the police loose to kill people. We formerly dreamed without the right to vote; now we dream with power. That’s why violence must be challenged, because violence is a diversion from the real discussion. We believe in nonviolent, direct action. We believe in voting. We’re not going to give up.”
Josie Johnson: “It’s not possible, given the history of oppression in America, for us to say, ‘If we change the police, that’s going to make it.’ It’s systemic. It’s everywhere. And so we need to educate and train and be encouraged that some of this may work with our police officers, but we also have to encourage, train, educate teachers, governors, mayors, council people. We just need to keep on keeping on as a people, and not let our generation of young people feel that it’s not going to work. We’ve got to vote. We’ve got to get our people out there. They make a difference, and they know it. And we have to hold on to the spirit and support of our young people. They can’t let this happen again.”
To my mind, these words are reminders of past struggles, progress made and challenges ahead. Their hopes echo what I and perhaps others felt on Sunday in Hillsboro.