Black Lives Matter, a look under the hood

By George DeLuca
November 11, 2016

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Masada Jones (right) addresses the crowd

Black Lives Matter is an international organization that combats violence and racial profiling. There is a quote on their website that reads, “Freedom by definition, is people realizing that they are their own leaders.”

Last July, a public event was held in front of Lowell City Hall, to give the public an opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas about the movement and the issues they raise. By the end of the meeting, there was consensus that the underlying issues attributed to racism are not always black and white.

There is no Lowell chapter of Black Lives Matter, so Lowell resident Masada Jones of the Violence Prevention Coalition organized the local rally and vigil. When there are national incidents, “you have to travel to Boston to show your respect and feel like you are part of something larger, so I thought it was important to have this forum in our own community,” Jones said in her opening statement to the crowd.

So, as the sun began to set, over 200 people joined together to discuss and better understand the perception of racial stereotyping in the local community, and to hold a candlelight vigil for black men who have died at the hands of police in the U.S.

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A crowd of about 200 people came to speak, listen, and learn

But several in attendance also expressed sympathy for the families of five police officers who were killed by a rooftop sniper during a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Jones opened the discussion by welcoming all viewpoints.

“Black Lives Matter is a term that we are using to draw attention to black and brown folks dying disproportionately by the hands of police officers,” Jones said, calling the event an “open mic.” “I’m here to honor black and brown lives, but there are people here to honor all lives that are lost.”

Danny Factor of the Green Rainbow Party is one of those who expressed a need to develop a spirit of unity and inclusion. The process starts with listening, he said. As he spoke, he drew inspiration from his mother, a holocaust survivor, who he said impressed upon him the importance of understanding various points-of-view.

“Every single person deserves dignity, respect, and love; regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, nationality, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, or immigration status,” Factor said.

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Danny Keating

Others tried to define what the word racism signified. Danny Keating (right) is an organizer of the Lowell/NH chapter of the Socialist Alternative, a national group that fights against worker exploitation and division. He said that racism “is a system of oppression where one race of people gets systematic privileges through the oppression of other groups of people,” he said. “It’s used in the United States primarily to divide poor people and keep them from working together.”

But Jones struggled with the term, although she painted a clear picture of how the scourges of bias and discrimination manifest in society. “I can’t define racism, but I have experienced it and because of racism, black and brown lives are not able to reach their full potential because of glass ceilings and all the things that encompass racism, which comes in a lot of different forms,” she said.

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Pastor Dwayne Wheeler

Pastor Dwayne Wheeler (left), of Deliverance Temple COGIC in Lowell, talked about the plight of black men, but he warned against divisiveness. “When we bleed, we all bleed red,” he said.

Wheeler said that changes can be made by uniting and working within the system. He challenged the attendees to find leaders who are ready, willing, and able to take on the elite power structure, starting right here in the city of Lowell.

“There’s one part of Lowell that runs this whole city. It’s called Belvidere and you-all let it happen,” he said. “How about if we all, as the people of Lowell, get together and find somebody who can run … who can be on the school committee … who can be on the city council? Let’s do something that’s going to make a change.” The crowd applauded.

Lowell resident Kelsey Barowich, a UMass Amherst Gender Studies undergrad expecting to complete her master’s in public policy this fall, said that people must be supportive of each other, citing the need for political change and equal opportunity for all. “I feel very strongly about racial equity and equality. We need better policy,” she said.

Keating said he agreed that there’s a need for political change, and offered a thread of hope for the future. “When people die, you see how interconnected all of these different things are in our society, and how it’s not as simple as finding a silver bullet to fix the problem. Maybe we need some fundamental retooling of society,” he said.

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