Updated 9 pm
Hundreds of people marched from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs Friday afternoon to commemorate Juneteenth.
The march began at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven and headed across the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge toward the final destination at Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs.
It took about an hour and a half to make the trek and participants gathered around the gazebo where speeches were made. The park, which is located across from the Oak Bluffs police station, was wall-to-wall people with everyone wearing masks to protect against coronavirus.
“We are celebrating today to pay homage to our freedom,” Lisette Williams, a co-sponsor of the march, said. “The most important thing is to treat each other with unconditional love and treating each other with kindness. So many say it so often but don’t practice it.”
Williams said the path to love and equality starts with education, particularly with imparting those values onto today’s youth. “It all starts at home. When children are young, they play with anyone, no matter what color their skin is,” Williams said. “We want those ideals to continue forever.”
A few key points Williams brought up was census participation and voter registration. “It’s a way to bring change, meaningful change,” she said. “Now is the time to dismantle the cycle of systematic racism and oppression in this country.”
She said that now is not the time to sit on the sidelines and watch other people rise up, “we are tired of the status quo, and we are tired of inaction.”
There were cheers from the crowd when the speakers mentioned voting rights, criminal justice policy, and equality for all people.
When Russ Ashton spoke, he asked the crowd, “what are you going to do?” To which they responded, “Vote!”
David Vanderhoop, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), said he was thankful for being a part of the march, and said that future generations are depending on what people do right now to advocate for equality and fair treatment of all people.
“The time for us to stand up and take our power back is now,” Vanderhoop said. He pointed to the Civil War statue built by a former confederate officer that sat adjacent to the park and said, “I am appalled at that statue, and it has to go.”
Saskia Vanderhoop said she, as a white person, offers her condolences to oppressed peoples and asked the white people in the crowd “what took us so long?”
She also talked about American mythology that erases the country’s violent past. “We know that race is a myth created to divide and oppress. This country was built on a basis of white supremacy, and this myth of superiority comes from a deep sense of insecurity,” Saskia said. “We and our children have a whole world to heal.”
Amber Henry, whose brother DJ Henry was shot and killed by police in New York 10 years ago, said “These lists keep getting longer. These families keep getting hurt. I hear their pain, I feel their pain. These families cannot keep enduring this. I know I can’t.”
Henry asked, “Why is the color of my skin a threat? Why can’t I live in peace.”
During her speech, and again after, the crowd chanted, “D.J. Henry” with Amber.
Danielle Hopkins, an anti-racist activist and student, said, “Even on an Island as interconnected and personal as Martha’s Vineyard, these [racist] sentiments still exist because the systems that uphold this country are rooted and created in anti-blackness.”
Hopkins added that the police system is not broken. “It is doing exactly what it was made to do. Policing was made to control black communities through violence,” she said. “This country has been in a constant battle with itself since its conception.”
Island teacher James Jennings asked the youth to “imagine a world where you judge a person based on the quality of their character and their courage, now it’s your job to create it.”
During the march, participants walked on sidewalks and carried signs that said, “Silence equals violence,” “Defund the police,” “White privilege is when you have the luxury to stay quiet,” and others bear the names of victims of police brutality like George Floyd.
Before the march began at Veterans Memorial Park, organizers sold “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts with a Martha’s Vineyard twist. The shirts include a picture of the Island with a black heart and the words, “United We Stand.”
To conclude the march, lead organizer and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School student Graysen Kirk, 15, said that coming to this march and participating in other civil justice initiatives “does not mean you are done.” “It does not not mean you can just walk away, I may be 100 years old and these injustices could still be happening, but this march is only scratching the surface,” Graysen said. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Kyra Steck and Clare Lonergan contributed to this report.