ANN ARBOR – On Friday, hundreds of community members gathered on the Diag in downtown Ann Arbor to march against racism and police brutality as well as to celebrate Juneteeth.
The holiday marks the day the last African American slaves in Texas learned of their liberation from slavery in 1865.
Before the march, several speakers spoke to a growing crowd. Trische’ Duckworth, founder of Survivors Speak, a nonprofit organization that worked with several activities to organize the march, encouraged peace. Referring to recent riots, she spoke about privilege and said, “don’t tear down our communities,” noting that it was members of those communities who were blamed for the destruction.
Emcee Valerie Kelley-Bonner reminded the crowd, many of whom held signs calling for the dismantling of white supremacy and disarmament of the police, of the history of Juneteenth.
“The abolition of slavery is not the ceiling. It is the floor,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who called for allyship and asked members of the crowd to think about their morals and to continue their support.
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, said that her voice was hoarse from joining recent protests and reminded the crowd to dig deeper into history and to listen to others.
“White people need to listen to what it’s like to be black in America,” said Dingell.
Representative Yousef D. Rabhi, whose district covers most of Ann Arbor, told the crowd to remember that racism is in many areas, like public health and school systems. He encouraged community members to keep up their momentum, stating that racism still exists in Washtenaw County and that there was more work to be done.
Several other speakers included Eli Savit, who is running for Washtenaw County prosecutor; Solomon Rajput, who is running for Michigan’s 12th Congressional District; Washtenaw County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson; and Jeff Gaynor, a Board of Education trustee for Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Sha’Teina Grady El, the woman who was punched in the head by a Washtenaw County deputy in May, also spoke to the crowd. Referring to when she was a youth coordinator, Grady El said that she believed children to be the future. She commented that while knowledge is power, an application of that knowledge and power is also necessary to learn. She spoke about unity, empathy, and about directing children to someone who will give them an education.
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Escorted by Ann Arbor Police Department cars, crowds left the Diag following Duckworth and other march leaders. Members of the march chanted phrases like “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe,” referring to words spoken by George Floyd.
They marched toward Main Street and then to the Ann Arbor Municipal Center where community members kneeled silently before returning to the Diag.