‘Choose love’

Abington residents turn out for anti- racism rally

More than 120 Abington residents came out Sunday afternoon to declare that Black Lives Matter and remember those lives affected by racism.

“I’m excited for this opportunity to stand in solidarity with our black and brown community and lift their voices, and to listen and learn from them, and to start taking action to get this movement moving again,” organizer Nicole Schick said.

Those gathered heard from Abington residents who have experienced racism and parents expressing their worry over raising black children, as well as learned about Abington’s abolitionist past.

Schick, who moved to town just this past November, thanked Abington Police Chief David Majenski and Rep. Alyson Sullivan for their support organizing the peaceful event. Her fiance, Jason Stewart, spoke about his experience growing up in Boston, being followed in stores, and intimidated by police.

Stewart recalled one incident as a young teenager, when he was walking home from the gym, police grabbing him, saying he fit the description of someone who stole a bike.

“I remember him saying to me, ‘If I ever see you again around this area I will have you arrested.’ I was a kid that was in my own neighborhood, how am I supposed to stay away from an area when I lived there,” Stewart said.

Vikki Graham, who is a teacher in Abington, spoke about adopting her Black son when he was a baby, and the difficult conversation her family had as the protests spread.

“My 12-year-old son, my perfect, beautiful, black boy, knew why I was crying. He looked at me and said, “I know people are afraid of black men.” And just like that, he shook off the blanket of white privilege we wrapped around him on the day the social worker placed him in our arms,” she said.

Both Stewart’s and Graham’s full remarks are reprinted below.

Congressman Stephen Lynch provided an update on community policing legislation being considered by Congress, while calling the young activists organizing the nationwide protests the “new abolitionists.”

State Sen. John Keenan spoke about traveling to South Africa and visiting Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. He recalled the civil rights leader’s words that “people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

“Choose love,” Keenan said.

The second half of the rally took part in the Frolio School gymnasium due to an intense thunderstorm moving over the area.

The event concluded with 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence, marking the length of time police officers kneeled on Floyd’s neck.

The following are remarks made by speakers Jason Stewart and Vikki Graham.

Jason Stewart

Good evening everyone and thank you all for attending. My name is Jason, I am a new Abington Resident and I have been in Abington for a total of seven months so far. I am
here today to share a little bit about my background and to speak on why Black Lives Matter is such an important movement.

The deaths that continue to happen to unarmed Black people in this country makes me very sad, angry, and quite frankly scared. Being a Black man and having to worry about being killed solely based off the color of my skin is on my mind constantly and that is a sad reality. This sad reality is what the Black community has to endure on a daily basis and the murders of George Floyd, Amaud Aubrey, and the other unarmed killings of Black people portray this.

I grew up in the Southend/Roxbury and all of my friends were pre-dominantly Black. I can think of the countless times I was followed by security in a store or shopping mall,
getting stares from individuals who made us feel we didn’t belong in a certain place. I also remember walking down a street and once people saw me they would cross to the other side of the street just to avoid me.

I think of being harassed by Police officers with my friends because of the way we were dressed. For Instance there was a Police officer
that approached my friends and I and said “What are you guys, a Pink Gang”, just because of what we were wearing.

I have one incident which still pains me to this day when I was racially profiled. I was between the age of 14-15 years old and I was coming back from the gym. Three officers
surrounded me saying “you get over here right now” with so much anger in their voices and I simply asked them what did I do. Their response was I fit the description of an
individual who stole a bicycle and I replied back I just came from the gym and I have no knowledge of what you’re talking about.

As the response came out of my mouth the officer immediately grabbed my arm and I was so scared of what was going to happen next. I tried to remain calm as the police officer told me to get on the ground. The only reason why this Cop stopped me is because I was Black and he thought I looked guilty.

I remember him saying to me if I ever see you again around this area I will have you arrested. I was a kid that was in my own neighborhood, how am I supposed to stay away from an area when I lived there.

Because of that incident I became very cautious in my own neighborhood and I was afraid I was going to get arrested just for being
outside my home. These are the type of occurrences that happen to the Black community far too often.
When I say Black Lives Matter I want everyone here to see the pain Black people go through when they leave their homes every day and they can be targeted for their skin color.

I want you all to see the pain and fear Black people have of being pulled over and praying that they drive off alive. I want you all to see how oppression and systemic racism still continues to be prominent in this country and Black people need everyone regardless of race to fight this battle with us. I have realized with the protest that have occurred, White people have started to break their silence and this has honestly brought tears to my eyes in a positive way. Seeing White people share in our suffering has made me hopeful that we are headed in the right direction and I am more hopeful that positive changes will happen. I hope that people of all races can come together to continue to fight this battle against racism. This is a battle that Black people have been fighting for 400 years and we just want our lives to matter.

Vikki Graham

My name is Vicki Graham. I am a resident of Abington, a mom of 6 kids who attend Abington Public Schools and I am also a teacher for Abington Public Schools. 

I learned the value of a black life about 13 years ago, when we were going through the adoption process for the first time. My husband and I had one biological child and we decided to adopt our second child through foster care. During the approval process, our social worker explained how long pre-adoptive families usually wait to be placed with a child. She informed us “If you want a white baby, you could wait years. But, if you’re willing to take a child of a different ethnicity, then the wait would be much shorter.” 

Sure enough, just a few days after getting our official approval, the social worker was at our door with our son. We hit the trifecta of unadoptable babies: a black baby, a boy, born with drugs in his system. The social worker tried to give us important information while we stared at our new son. His medical records were a mess. One person had listed him as Caucasian, one listed him as bi-racial. There were two different birth weights recorded. We didn’t care about any of that.  

The questions from strangers didn’t really bother me, either. When a colleague asked: “Hey, do your kids have different fathers?” I replied: “Yes, different mothers, too!”

But my absolute favorite was when people would ask if we were going to tell him he’s adopted. Listen, person I’ve never met, he’s 5 shades darker than me and my husband. I’m pretty sure he’ll figure it out! My go-to answer was “Oh yes, we already told him that he’s adopted. We’re just waiting for the right time to tell him he’s black.” Once, when he was a toddler, someone asked something about his race, I don’t remember the comment. But he got a very concerned look on his face and, very seriously, got closer to the person and asked “Can you see me?” 

We ended up adopting 5 children, so we have 6 kids in all. A couple of weeks ago, we gathered the kids for a family meeting. We talked about the what’s going on in news. They asked hard questions: Why do people keep killing black people? Why are people looting? Aren’t they hurting their own cause? Why is this happening now? It was a tough conversation, but important.  

I reminded my kids not to watch videos of violence, not to get into arguments online, and to let us know if they were feeling scared or had any questions. I tried to reassure them that they are safe, but I lost my credibility as I lost my composure. I don’t believe they are safe.

My 12-year-old son, my perfect, beautiful, black boy, knew why I was crying. He looked at me and said, “I know people are afraid of black men.” And just like that, he shook off the blanket of white privilege we wrapped around him on the day the social worker placed him in our arms. 

That invisible blanket has been our advantage all along as white adoptive parents. I can use my privilege to shield my multi-racial kids. When our black kids are with us, they get to share our privilege, we just have to keep them close. But every boy becomes a man, and boys of color reach that age astonishingly early. So here we are.

Most moms of black boys don’t have the luxury of avoiding “the talk” until their sons are teenagers. Well, not if they want their sons to come home every day. I know I’m lucky. But now I have to teach him the 20 things a black man needs to remember in order to interact with white people without scaring them. 30 if its dark out.

In the years since he arrived in our home, I have had to confront my own racial biases, shortcomings, guilt and white fragility. I am still learning, all the time. But the most important thing I have ever learned is this: nothing will change if white people keep walking away from difficult conversations. There is no amount of tolerating “people who mean well” that will keep our black and brown children safe. 

Please, listen to what people of color have to say. If you are not a person of color, recognize that no, you do not know what it’s like to be black in America. But you can learn. And, what’s more, you can be a part of the solution. You have to be.

We invade the spaces of people of color ALL THE TIME and then spin the narrative of their entire existence right in front of their eyes. We throw weddings at the plantations where their ancestors were tortured. We use their culture as an accessory. We answer their cries of Black Lives Matter with platitudes and a counter slogan. 

I’m not asking you to apologize or feel bad. I need you to DO SOMETHING. Donate to charities that support people of color. Read articles and books written by people of color. Use your privilege to speak out against racial injustice everywhere, always. Even when it’s “not the right time” or someone “means well.” 

If your response to recent events is anything besides “Black Lives Matter, I’m with you!” then please recognize that you have work to do. 

Thank you.

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