The most powerful words are often words that come straight from the heart.
They may be planned, rehearsed. Or they may just come spontaneously, saying what you feel, what you believe, what you know.
Saturday’s Black Lives Matter rally in Tillsonburg, organized by 15-year-old Asha Agro, who led off with a prepared speech, had both. Participants were encouraged to speak – any age, any colour – and many of them took that opportunity.
“I look around me this morning and I see a lot of beautiful faces, a lot of beautiful people, a lot of people with great intentions,” said Bernice Copping, who moved to Tillsonburg in 1983. “And I for one am going to back them 100 per cent.
“This is my home. I don’t have too many problems, but my beautiful grandchildren have way too many. As a woman, and as a woman of colour, I am going to stand behind my grandchildren, and they will stand behind me.
“Life is short. We get sick, we die. There is no reason for anybody to take the life of anybody else. I don’t care who you are or where you are from, life matters. Whether you are Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Black, White, it goes on and on and on. We all bleed the same colour. We all don’t bleed white… everybody’s blood is the same. And everybody will stand tall.
“Thank you very, very much for your support here today,” Copping concluded. “And this beautiful young lady (organizer Asha Agro), I have never met you but when I saw it on Facebook, I said I will back you 100 per cent.”
“I’ll be honest, I’m pretty emotional right now,” said Glendale HS grad Liam Spencer, currently studying at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I think I just want to thank the people of colour who came out to a 90 per cent white town to show their solidarity here. I know that’s not an easy ask. I know there are a lot of eyes, and it might feel much more heavier for all of you. But thank you, thank you, thank you. To Asha Agro, a 15-year-old girl in the community I grew up in, thank you. Thank you.
“To all the people who aren’t people of colour,” Spencer continued, “and I’m saying it blunt, you are white. You are white and you will never understand – I see this on your signs – and I ask you to take that attitude to hold other white people accountable. Because as you know in this town, there are people driving by right now that are looking at us like we are weird for this. I don’t get that, and especially in this town, we have to hold white people accountable moreso than… I guess what I’m trying to say is, in a 90 per cent white town, where you can’t rely on the people of colour to do all the groundwork, we have to band together as a community, everyone versus racism, and do it together. And that’s all I’m trying to say.
“So please educate yourself, if you’re not fully educated on it. I am not, I will never be fully educated on it, but I can promise all of you I will constantly be trying to learn,” said Spencer, summing up. “I will constantly be here, or another city, or online, making this stand. Thank you all so much. As a Tillsonburg born and raised boy, I take so much pride in seeing this. Thank you.”
“I’m a social butterfly,” smiled Gus Johnson who moved to Tillsonburg three years ago, “but today I’m not. You know, love never breeds hate. And hate could never breed love. So love could only breed love and hate could only breed hate.
“On behalf of myself and my few black brothers and sisters who are out here today…” said Johnson, pausing, “I have lived this. Even within my lifetime. I have scars to prove that.
“We need to break that stigmatism and realize that we are all the same… because I don’t see colour when I see white people. I see beautiful people. I see something different. I see something different to what I saw growing up.
“I have kids, too. And they’re beautiful. And this right here, this is strong. This means a lot to me. This means a lot to us. Because this is up to you guys to make a difference. If it was just us coming out here, us coloured guys, we wouldn’t know what would’ve happened. But this is up to you guys, this is Tillsonburg. And Tillsonburg’s making me very proud right now.
“This is really making me proud and you guys need to push this, especially the younger minds. We need to break the stigmatism. We are all good people and this is good people right here. And we need to make this work, guys.
“A big love to you guys,” Johnson summed up. “I appreciate this. I appreciate the few of us that came out. I will do this any day. Black Lives Matter.”
Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar, who was wearing a Town of Tillsonburg facemask when not addressing the rally participants, also spoke at the rally.
“I think it was important to celebrate the passion that young Asha (Agro) had to responsibly bring together a community to bring awareness, conversation, to get educated,” said Molnar, asked to summarize his words Saturday.
“The discussion I had with her earlier this morning is that I do have a natural, responsible concern for the healthcare of our community, and those challenges at this time are real and they are serious. But there really are two pandemics that are going on in our entire society.”
Molnar said he has committed to keeping the conversation going with Agro at a future date to help find solutions.
“Again, like we always try to do, let’s find local solutions to what are really international problems,” said Molnar. “Because if we start with what we can control, and work together, then we’ve identified a small part of the greater whole.
“It’s not good enough to ‘not be racist,'” Molnar noted. “We need to be anti-racist.
“I think we’re pretty darn fortunate here in this community. What you saw today is a natural response to so many other things that have brought this community together in so many positive ways.”
Molnar said he encouraged Agro, and others, to let Saturday’s Black Lives Matter rally to be a beginning, and to build upon what was already an extremely important day, June 6th.
“Seventy-six years ago the men and the armed forces of Canada stormed the Normandy beaches, Juno Beach, sacrificed their lives so that all of us, including the youth here today, could actually have a peaceful protest and share their ideas. That’s pretty powerful, too.
“So maybe we just need to be respectful of what they gave us and then act on it a little quicker.”