July 4th Black Lives Matter March
Updated: Jul 9, 2020
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Dawn Avagliano-Schumacher and Maria Begg-Roberson
This is Rutherford recently spoke with some students who will be high school seniors at Rutherford High School and Bergen County Technical High School this fall and who worked together to organize a Black Lives Matter March on July 4th in Rutherford.
Lead Organizer, Mary Ahn, a Korean-American who attends Rutherford High School is passionately involved in various extracurricular activities including a part-time job at American Eagle and Interact Club at RHS. Mary plans to attend college in the fall of 2021 to study journalism so that she is able to write and provide representation to where it is most needed.
Alyssa Weber is considering studying political science in college. As she explained, “I hope I can learn more about these same systemic issues the U.S. has and potentially make a difference when I’m out of college. I think helping to organize this march gave me a lot of good experience and a taste of what it’s like to be immersed in that world.” Hiba Siddiki writes for the R-Hi at RHS.
Sarah Dzurillay plans to go to college for Psychology and continue in the performing arts.
Nate Robin attends Bergen County Technical High School. When he attends college he plans to study music education. Nate told TIR, “Hopefully the music I make will land me a spot in the public eye, where I will continue to advocate for social issues.”
Christina Rodriguez has always loved American history and has been drawn to that subject her whole life. Christina explained, "Coming from Cuban and Greek immigrant families who escaped the corruption and economic turmoil of their respective countries, I have always been a proponent of democracy. I intend to go to college to become a corporate lawyer and eventually become involved in politics."
Sebastian Smith, who will be a senior at Bergen Tech, explained, “ I am black and white-mixed. I am a student-athlete and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
TIR: Why did you decide to organize a BLM March?
Mary Ahn (Lead Organizer): We decided to organize a BLM March to continue the spread of awareness of racial inequality, particularly police brutality, that was sparked by George Floyd’s brutal death, both in our local community and in our country. It was a need for change and a call to action that was personally the main motivation. As standard for Gen Z, I was laying in my bed with school nearly ending in the middle of quarantine with absolutely nothing to do. As I scrolled through TikTok, I came across one of @jeremiah.kim’s videos where he was partnered with Giselle and Grace from the nonprofit organization Protest for Change. In this 60 second video, he and the organization were explaining their proposal of nationwide protests specifically held on the 4th of July to kick off the Nationwide Economic Blackout when people of color and allies refrained from purchasing items from businesses that were not black-owned from July 4th to July 7th in order to display the power, specifically the economic power, people of color hold in the United States. As soon as he asked for more cities to sign up, I immediately went to the website that was listed in his bio and signed Rutherford up.
Alyssa Weber (Organizer): We wanted the fight to keep going because even though there was already a march in Rutherford, the fight for equality is not over and we wanted to show that with our march.
Hiba Siddiki (Organizer): It’s important to keep the movement alive and flourishing as much as we can. Even though Rutherford is a small town, the truth will always be that Black Lives Matter and we wanted to get that message out.
Sarah Dzurillay (Organizer): As a young white female, I think it is so important especially now in our crazy world to use the voice that I was given and use it for good. There are so many times that I have danced around controversial topics that I knew that as I am getting older, I want to use my power for what I believe in. The BLM march is one way to really show support as well as bring people together that can make a change in the world. All of the people involved were around 17 years old and yet we can make a change and help people when we know that we can stand up for what we believe in.
Nate Robin (Organizer): Too often we notice movements like this fade into the background. After the first BLM march, people may assume that it’s over a month later. This movement and its various marches will not stop until there is a real change in the systems that oppress black people, namely the police and prison systems, as well as redlining and voter suppression. The purpose of this march was to show Rutherford and the surrounding towns that our generation will not tolerate any more injustice.
Christina Rodriguez (Organizer): We decided to organize the March because we were inspired by the momentum our generation has maintained in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to do our due diligence for the Black members of the Rutherford community and show that we stand by them in the face of racism.
Sebastian Smith (Speaker): To spread awareness in the community about the racial inequality in this world, specifically towards black lives. To also stress the fact that we must keep pushing for change.
TIR: Why was July 4th selected as the day for the protest?
MA: Along with the origin stated above of starting the National Economic Blackout, more importantly, the date in which the protests were to be held was significant because it was a redefining of what Independence Day has meant in this country for the past 400 years. Instead of a day that celebrated white revolutionaries and founding fathers, we wanted to recognize the slaves who powered the economy and switch the spotlight to groups that have been, from the start, marginalized and misrepresented.
AW: We specifically chose July 4th to hold our march because it’s a day where we’re supposed to celebrate our independence and country. We felt it would be weird to celebrate the holiday normally and not acknowledge that not everyone in this country is granted liberty and justice for all. Now is not a time to celebrate our country, considering the systemic oppression it perpetuates.
HS: July 4th seemed like the most opportune day to do it because the freedom that we celebrate on that day is only that of the white male. Black people did not procure their rights until much later in history and we wanted to make a statement about that.
SD: The fourth of July is such a symbol of nationalism and patriotism. It is a day to celebrate America and our freedom. However, in our country, there are people who experience racism and there are many other conflicts, so instead of congratulating our country once again for our freedom, we should be bringing to light the problems in our country and expressing our voices through a march.
NR: July 4th is significant firstly because the organization Protest for Change planned protests on this day in over 80 cities across the country. July 4th should be a celebration of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ but time and time again we see that statement is false for many people in this country. July 4th was also the start date for the economic blackout occurring across the country, where people were urged to not buy anything at all, unless from black-owned or small businesses. This is to showcase solidarity and display the effect that Black people, people of color, and white allies can have on the economy when we work together.
CR: The Fourth of July is obviously one of the most symbolic days in American history for it was the day that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. As a country, we tend to glamorize the founding father and paint them as being larger than life figures. It’s hard for us to acknowledge the fact that they were people and made many mistakes. Their relationship with black people in this country was severely flawed and has contributed to many biases and prejudices that are seen today.
SS: July 4th represents our country gaining freedom. Clearly, not everyone in this country is able to experience freedom. Organizing a rally on this day made logical sense.
TIR: How did you organize the march and find participants?
MA: After signing up our town on a website provided on TikTok and getting the confirmation email and guidance/advice from Protest for Change, I created a group chat of about eleven students on the social media platform Instagram, this group included Stacy Shang, Christina Rodriguez, Nate Robin, Hiba Siddiki, Kaitlyn McCarthy, Ella Michalski, Tah’Jai Irvine-Allen, Alyssa Weber, Ellah Brown, Sarah Dzurillay, and Kyra Cioffi. I created this group based on their activism both at school and especially on social media. Witnessing their outspoken online presence, I felt these were the right students to organize such a significant protest. Afterward, in order to spread the word, we created Facebook Groups, flyers, and websites to distribute information to all age groups.
AW: Mary contacted the police department and Mayor to ensure that we had permission to hold this march and made up the route for it. She then recruited the rest of us and put us in a group chat together to discuss our ideas. We all helped spread the word by posting the information on social media and contacting local businesses to help us promote it. We also collaborated on our different ideas about the speeches, set up, etc.
SD: Mary had approached me in the very beginning and I could not turn her down. I honestly felt so honored to even be considered as being a part of this amazing group of people.
NR: Lead organizer Mary Ahn created a team of high school students, some from RHS and a couple from Bergen County Technical High School. Noticing a lack of Black members on our team, I reached out to 3 more friends from my school who are Black, Seun Olanrewaju, Lyric McKelvy, and Sebastian Smith.
SS: The march was organized through a website where all the information is presented. We recruited participants through social media-we shared the word of what was going on.
TIR: Do you feel that the march was successful? How many people do you believe participated?
MA: An estimate of about 300 protestors came to this march. We feel this march was successful not because of the attendance numbers or because of its widespread reach online but because within certain Rutherford Facebook groups, we received messages and viewed posts created by black members of the community who now felt safe and seen in a predominantly white town. The fact this march in effect helped black parents feel confident about sending their children to school in Rutherford gave us the reassurance that we are amplifying black voices and pushes us to dismantle systems of racism so that black Americans are able to live in the United States without fear.
AW: I do feel that the march was successful. Throughout the march, there was a good amount of energy coming from everyone. I also thought it was successful in that we raised a good amount of money to donate to a BLM organization.
HS: I believe the March was successful in the manner that it got our message out.
SD: I do think it was successful in multiple ways. There were people not just from Rutherford that attended. A lot of high schoolers were able to express their feelings by presenting speeches which had not happened at other protests I have attended. I am so grateful that people came despite it being a holiday where people typically have barbeques at home and go to the beach.
NR: I think it was successful. I think it was well organized and the student speeches were powerful.
CR: I feel that the march was successful in terms of people who attended, but the work is far from over. There is still much to accomplish, in terms of education of social injustice and legislative action, but this march was successful in showing that many in the Rutherford community are outraged by police brutality.
SS: I feel like the march was successful, it went really well. It wasn’t perfect, however, it was the best that we could have done and I am proud of my peers for making that possible.
TIR: Who were the guest speakers?
MA: The guest speakers included Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, Rutherford Councilwoman Maria Begg-Roberson, Rutherford High School Athletics Director David Frazier, rising seniors at Bergen Tech Nate Robin, Lyric McKelvy, Seun Olan, Ellah Brown, and Sebastian Smith, myself, and rising senior at Rutherford High School Hiba Siddiki.
TIR: What did you hope this march would accomplish?
MA: From the start, we hoped this march would prevent Rutherford from becoming complacent, we wanted this march to be a reminder that one march, one protest, a couple of donations or a number of signed petitions is and will never be enough. We wanted this march to serve as a reminder that black people are still being targeted in this country and we have to constantly be fighting against the racial oppression that is laced into every American system. This march is meant to be a battle call for those in Rutherford and neighboring towns to constantly be aware of what is said and what happens both in their homes, in local legislation, and in cities across the country. We want people to recognize their privilege and their own racial biases and to consistently fight the mass prejudice and stereotypes used to generalize the black community --to not only be active in the national news we see on TV but to be active at the dinner table with our relatives.
AW: I personally hoped that this march would get more people to realize that you do not need to show blind patriotism to your country. I think the significance of it being held on July 4th really helped get this point across. Black people face so many systemic injustices in this country and these problems were widely ignored, at least up until recently. America, as it is right now, is not a place that should be celebrated in my opinion, because it inherently and disproportionately oppresses people of different skin colors, and those problems need to be fixed before we can celebrate our independence. With this march, I hoped to get more people to realize this. And I think we did accomplish this because just by holding the march we got so many people to cancel their typical July 4th plans and instead come out and show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
HS: We hoped this March would help spread even more awareness to keep a certain momentum going on the Black Lives Matter Movement.
SD: I think it is so important for everyone to have their voice heard, especially people of my age who are getting ready to vote and become politically active. There are so many things we can be doing to help support the Black Lives Matter movement and this was just one of the many ways to do that!
NR: I hoped this march would show Rutherford that its young people have never, and will never tolerate racism. Not in our little town, not anywhere. We are calling for change within the school system to include more material about Black history and literature, not just in the high school, but in the elementary and middle schools as well. We are calling for an end to Qualified Immunity in the state of New Jersey, which holds police officers at a different level of accountability than other citizens. Like my good friend, Hiba Siddiki, said in her speech, “Innocent or guilty, the police should not be killing civilians.” And, we are encouraging those of age to vote not only in November but we also hope they voted in the primary on July 7th to make their voices heard.
CR: We hoped this march would inspire young people in the town of Rutherford to continue the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the past, many publicized instances of racial injustice have caused people on social media to become infuriated, but inevitably, that momentum has died out. We acknowledge social injustice with this country and are prepared to fight for as long as possible to make sure that the foundations of democracy in this country are upheld. This march was symbolic of our devotion to the Black Lives Matter movement.
SS: I hope this march spread awareness to the people of Rutherford and Bergen County about how we have to improve as a society. I hope it spread awareness about the systemic racism in our country and how we can get rid of it-piece by piece.