It was not as silent as advertised and the roughly 20 participants stood for more than 90 minutes, however what was billed on Instagram as a silent sit-in with Black Lives Matter-themed signs was peaceful along Broadway near Johnson Place where Hewlett meets Woodmere on Sunday.
Wearing masks and sipping Gatorade and water, the attendees mostly high school and college students held their handmade signs and reciprocated with a wave or a shout as passing motorists occasionally honked their vehicle’s horn or gave a thumps up in support of a movement that began in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the of killing Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., a year earlier.
BLM, as it is known, has gained momentum after the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other high-profile killings by police, including Rashard Brooks in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, allegedly by two men, all this year.
Jessica Segarra, a Hewlett resident, who is studying anthropology and sociology at McGill University in Montreal, said her intention was to bring added attention to the petition that has been circulating online by a recently established grassroots organization, POCatHewlett, POC standing for Persons of Color, that has in the language of protest “demanded” that the Hewlett-Woodmere Board of Education do certain things with the aim of creating a more inclusive curriculum and tolerant environment for students of color.
“I know I learned some stuff way after high school,” said Segarra, who graduated from Hewlett High School in 2018. “I never learned about Juneteenth, I never learned about Tulsa, Oklahoma, Black Wall Street, I never learned about the prison industrial complex, and how the 13th Amendment is basically slavery again. So, I think we really need to reform the education system, I think that’s why a lot of us are here today.”
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19, commemorating they day in 1865 that all slaves in Texas were freed, nearly three years after then President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that took effect on Jan. 1, 1863.
The Tulsa, Oklahoma, Black Wall Street reference is known as the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, when many white residents, a majority deputized by law enforcement and given weapons by city officials attacked Black residents and businesses in the Greenwood District. The assault destroyed the wealthiest Black community in the country known as Black Wall Street.
“I think that demands is just the term that is usually used for this type of stuff,” Segarra said. I, of course, don’t want to speak for these people and take over their voices definitely, but I mean, you know its whatever the language is. It’s telling what we want out of the school board. This is stuff that should have been already in place. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of them to do this right now, especially with what’s going on and in a predominantly white neighborhood that we live in, I think it’s definitely needed.”
Roughly 25 minutes into the rally, three men showed up on the opposite side of Broadway with two of them holding Blue Lives Matter signs. All three declined to speak. The men, who were there for about 45 minutes, also received their share of honks and waves. At times both groups received signs of support from the same vehicles. Eleven Nassau County police officers oversaw the protesters from both sides of Broadway.
Hewlett High School senior Gabrielle Ramdhany also noted the board’s lack of a response to comments made about diversity in the school district at the July 1 meeting as the reason why she attended her first protest. Saying that a portion of the people who commented did not want to cause a ruckus during meeting that was livestreamed, and the Sunday rally was their response.
“I think the most important thing we can get out of this is educating one another,´ Ramdhany said. “Knowing what racism is, recognizing it, showing that you’re not alone and there is a way to cope with it, I think that is what should come out of all this. And I would like to see more representation in the staff. I’ve never had a teacher that was a person of color, and would love to see that. But first and foremost teaching others to respect one another’s opinion and regardless of their skin color or race, gender, sexual orientation I just want them to feel comfortable in the school district.”
A few participants felt uncomfortable about putting their names to quotes, but one young woman said that there could be other protests and, “We won’t stop until we get what we want.”