Aquinnah answers the call for solidarity

Evening ceremony acknowledges the plight of oppressed peoples.

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Caitlin Burbidge, of Vineyard Haven, holds a sign at the Aquinnah Circle event. – Lisa Vanderhoop

About 30 people gathered at the Aquinnah Circle Friday evening to acknowledge and stand behind the fight against racial inequity and oppression.

The ceremony, which was organized by Sassafras Earth Education, sought to bring people together to connect and have dialogue around the untimely deaths of many African American and indigenous people due to racism.

One person in attendance held a sign that said “I hear you, I see you, I stand with you.” Another sign bore George Floyd’s name in bold black lettering. 

Saskia Vanderhoop and David Vanderhoop, co-founders of Sassafras, thanked everyone in attendance for making it out. David started by saying that due to recent events, including the death of Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, he feels that now is the time to speak up against racial injustice. “I have a heavy heart for the recent injustice to black people, and the most recent injustice to native people, both of which are ongoing,” David said. 

In order to overcome the illusion of separation, David said, people of all races and beliefs must come together and connect with one another. “We need the connection. No matter the color of your skin or difference of opinion,” David said. 

And for bystanders of racial injustice, David said, “Being silent is a statement.”

“I grew up being silenced a lot. And I’m not comfortable still speaking my heart, my truth. But I swallow that, and I say it is time to be courageous once again,” David said. “I stand here in support of the black community, the native community. Among all the tragedies that have happened, I invite you to join me in that.”

After speaking, David and his brother sang and played drums together.

David asked his ancestors for guidance during this difficult time, and asked the crowd to do the same. “Ancestors, give us guidance and sustenance for our spirit,” David said. 

He told everyone to shout out the names of their ancestors whom they wished to honor and seek guidance from. “I hope that when I become of the ancestors, people honor me in the same way,” David said.

David’s daughter also sang, and the crowd echoed her words.

After the ceremony concluded, David asked all who came out to continue taking a stand against oppression and bigotry, and take action. “Take this feeling back home with you, and do something. Don’t just be silent and resume the status quo. You have the power to make change,” David said.

According to Saskia, the ceremony was a response to a call to action from the African American and native communities across the country. Saskia said she hopes for meaningful change in all aspects of American life — in politics, in education, and in society as a whole.

“Everything needs to change,” she said. “Police need to be held accountable, they should not be protected. Everyone needs to be judged under the same standards.”

For anyone who has not experienced oppression or been exposed to racism, Saskia said, the most important thing to do is listen. “Listen deeply, pay attention to what is happening. Educate yourself on these issues, and do all that you can to stand together as one,” she said.