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Protesters speak up for Black lives in Preston

Preston — With signs saying "Black Lives Matter" and "Denial is the heartbeat of racism," about 100 people came together Saturday at the Preston Community Park in a protest to end injustice and racism.

Mike Sizer, who is white and organized the Black Lives Matter protest with his wife, Christina, who is of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent, reminded people that the civil rights movement was not "ancient history." He told the story of how, after the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, they spoke to their children about race, injustice, slavery and segregation. His 10-year-old son asked, "You mean that if segregation were still a thing, we couldn't be a family?"

Sizer called on people to continue to protest and not go back to their normal lives: "We've seen some change but this is just the beginning," he said, "and the only way it happens is if we continue to do things like this, continue to speak, continue to come together."

New London firefighter Al Mayo, who is Black and a member of We Won't Stand Down, said that people fail to realize that when civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. was alive, he was looked upon as "a troublemaker," just as some people are looking at protesters during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Educator Erica Watson spoke about the medical and mental components of racism as a health crisis. "Racism, health crisis," attendees chanted after her.

Protesters encouraged a lone counter-protester, who held a sign saying "All Lives Matter," "Blue Lives Matter" and "Color Does Not Matter," to listen and learn about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lauren Gee, office manager and funeral director apprentice, brought the hearse bearing the names of Black people killed by police. People stood in silence as she read aloud the names and ages of victims.

"I just really needed people to see the numbers and say the names, force them to acknowledge that this is a very real issue, nothing to argue with, just straight facts on a hearse that all these lives were lost and zero justice served," she said in explaining why she created the hearse.

Tariko Satterfield Sr., who is Black and a Norwich resident and CEO of ReaLifEmpire, said that when people are silent, they become complicit and part of the problem: "We need your voice," he said.

"I don't need you to just show up at the protest," he added. "I need you to live a life of protest. I need you to lead conversations of protest. I need you to lead thinking of protest. I need you to carry a heart of protest, and when you do, Black lives will matter."

His 12-year-old daughter, Dawson, read aloud a poem she wrote after listening to the stories about Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The poem is from the point of view of someone standing at a protest and is in response to someone saying "all lives matter."

"While you are saying 'all lives matter,' people are at protests trying to earn their rights, which should've already been given," she said. "All lives do matter, but only some lives are being treated like they matter. So until all lives are treated like they matter, I will stand here and yell Black lives matter until there is justice for all Black people."

Bob Stachen, candidate for the state's 18th Senate district, told people that the coming election is important at every level and noted the changes brought about through laws, such as the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act and the police reform bill recently passed in the state House.

Kevin Booker Jr., New London city councilor, educator, and CEO of Booker Empowerment LLC, noted that 153 of Connecticut's 169 municipalities are predominantly white and that Connecticut is the second most segregated state in the nation.

He called on white people to stand up in solidarity with Black and brown people who have been historically disenfranchised, speak up when they are in boardrooms that don't represent the nation's diversity, and follow through.

"Most important, you should be sitting here and standing here right now saying, 'What can we do to make sure those individuals who do not look like me feel comfortable when they drive through Preston?'" he said.

He called for mandatory policies for diversity and micro-aggression training, not only for the state troopers that police the town, but in the school system and town government.

Preston resident Kelly Ennis-Davis, an educator in Norwich, said it's important to have a Black Lives Matter protest in Preston, because it raises awareness that Preston isn't isolated from the issue.

"Instead of being part of the problem, we really need to, as a community, be part of the solution," she said.

As an educator, she said has seen the struggles students and their families go through in the face of inequality, whether it's financially, educationally or in the justice system. She said the death of George Floyd has brought the issue of inequality to the forefront and people can't ignore it anymore.

She said she is becoming more aware of her own white privilege growing up in Preston and being given so many different opportunities: "Everyone should have those same opportunities as myself," she said.

Yolanda Walker of Preston, who is Black, came to the protest with her children, Kyree, 7, Akaiya, 8, and Derell, 12, to support the cause and the movement.

"I think it's very important for people to know that Black lives do matter," she said. "There needs to be light shed on the senseless killings, the police killings of Black people, and I want my children to know and be aware of what's going on and us being a minority in this town, I think that this is very important to shed some light upon it."

k.drelich@theday.com

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