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Black youths lead anti-racism rally in Amherst

  • Left, Miguel Cruz,18, Tabor Bowman,17,and Serenity Perkins,17, stand with others gathered at Amherst Regional High school during a yoga centering session before the crowd marched to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth of BLM protest Friday, June 12, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Charlie Zucker, 13, along with others, leads a group from Amherst Regional High School to Sweetser Park in the center of town last Friday as part of a Youth for BLM protest. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Miguel Cruz, 18, from left, Charlie Zucker, 13, Tabor Bowman, 17, and Monica Cage, 16, lead a group from Amherst Regional High School to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth for BLM protest Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tabor Bowman, 17, leads a group from Amherst Regional High School to Sweetser Park as part of the Youth for BLM protest Friday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Miguel Cruz,18, Tabor Bowman,17, Charlie Zucker,13, and Monica Cage,16, lead a group from Amherst Regional High school to Sweetser Park in the center of town as part of a Youth of BLM protest Friday, June 12, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Miguel Cruz, 18, from left, Tabor Bowman, 17, and Serenity Perkins, 17, gather with fellow marchers at Amherst Regional High School during a yoga centering session before setting off for downtown. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

AMHERST — Seeing racial injustice in institutions such as law enforcement and education, as well as knowing that it also exists in workplaces and their own neighborhoods, local black youths say they hope to be part of a generation that ends racism.

“We know youth are always at the forefront of movements that create change in this country,” says Petua Mukimba, 17, of South Hadley. “If we stand up and say what we want, there can be change.”

“Our voices need to be heard now so we don’t have to face these problems 20 years from now,” said Amherst resident Monica Cage, 16. “People need to start listening so we can prevent the same problems from happening in the future.”

Mukimba and Cage were among the organizers of Youth for BLM, which held a march and rally Friday afternoon that drew more than 200 people.

Beginning at the football field at Amherst Regional High School, the participants marched through downtown Amherst with chants of “George Floyd,” “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” before having a speak-out demanding equality and justice at Sweetser Park, in front of the Amherst police station, where people lined the perimeter with signs such as “Invest in Social Services, Make Police Obsolete” and “Listen to Black Youth.”

As part of their efforts at making it a unique event, young organizers emphasized that the voices of black teenagers should be the only ones speaking, with adults and white allies encouraged to offer support but discouraged from taking the microphone or offering public comments.

Charlie Zucker, 13, of Holyoke, said the event was important to confront the killings of black people by police officers — like Floyd, who died while his neck was being knelt on by a police officer, or Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Missouri teenager gunned down by a police officer several years ago.

“We see people my age being killed and things like that shouldn’t happen to someone my age,” Zucker said.

“A lot of racial problems have been happening in the world and they’ve increased in the past few years,” said Tabor Bowman, 17, of Amherst. “Things like that won’t stop until youth speak out against a corrupt system.”

Bowman said he envisions that promoting racial justice will benefit all people, making them more comfortable with law enforcement and fostering effective institutions that work for everybody.

Even though Amherst is a progressive town, Cage said, she still sees racism in classrooms and in the school hallways, observing that the same offense can yield a stiffer punishment for a black student than a white student. She also asked that her white student peers tell administrators if they see racist graffiti in the school bathrooms so that can be addressed immediately, rather than being ignored.

Mukimba said calling out law enforcement, including Amherst Police, is critical.

She called for more scrutiny of police and accountability for their actions. “We shouldn’t wait for someone to die to be able to say Amherst Police are bad. We can’t wait for it to blow up,” Mukimba said.

Cage said the boiling point for people protesting in the streets across the country following Floyd’s death is understandable.

“Wake up — black people across the country have reached their limits,” Cage said.

Miguel Cruz, 18, of Amherst, said amplifying black voices is critical, noting that he has black friends, black teachers and others in the community who should be heard.

“A lot of bad s--- is happening and needs to be fixed,” Cruz said. “We want to stand our guard and fight for what we believe in.”