By Tony Forder
My day started with a tear as I read a letter from my 95-year-old mother in England. She signed off with "all my love my dearest eldest son...."
Returning home from a 2-week hiatus the evening before I had spoken with my daughter Caroline about a peaceful protest she planned on attending in neighboring Hackensack, NJ with her elder sister Samantha. I surprised myself when I said I'd like to join you. But this morning I was having second thoughts. "You two go," I told her, "I don't want to be in your way."
But, after speaking with Samantha, she said, "Dad, you won't be holding us back."
"Ok, maybe I'll come."
We joined the March just after it had started from the Sears parking lot, down Main Street. Lots of people, lots of signs BLM, Black Lives Matter, and chants No Justice...No Peace. Say his name, George....Floyd.
At the courthouse people spread out, more or less social distanced. Everyone seemed to be wearing facemasks. It was hot. Volunteers were handing out water and hand sanitizer. There were all ages, all races, maybe about 400 people, women, men and a few children.
The organizer Mark Edwards with Citizens for Equal Justice spoke about how he started an organization with one person – himself. A former Hackensack High Schooler Marine spoke about how he made it his mission to educate his fellow Marines about Black lives. He said he remembered Middle School and High School classes and history books showing segregation. He knew what it was like to be looked at suspiciously because of the color of his skin. Something I will never know.
The organizer introduced a local woman saying her story hits home. She is the Hispanic mother of Elvin Diaz who was killed by police. I didn't realize but my daughter Caroline had known Elvin in high school. The mother was passionate and moving speaking in Spanish with a translator, still seeking justice for her son's death, which was deemed an accidental shooting by the police.
All the speakers were good – powerful and focused, not inciting. One speaker asked us to take a knee. He asked all the mothers to stand up. Then all the fathers. Then everybody. We need to make changes for everyone, he said. And we are lucky to be in the multiracial town of Hackensack. "Look around. We're all here together – Black, White, Hispanic, Asian."
My wife and I already had a great appreciation for our girls' multi-cultural educational experience at Hackensack High School.
The organizer introduced the first Black elected Sheriff of Bergen County. He spoke of how sick he felt when he watched the video of George Floyd. And he spoke of the majority of good cops, but reminded of the police motto – To Protect and to Serve.
A dark cloud passed over shedding some big raindrops, a blessing, tears from above.
Two young girls sang for us. Lastly some youths were introduced, one girl leading chants. "We are the future. We need to change things now!"
The second part of the March proceeded, up Essex Street, right on First Street past the high school. People clapped from their doorsteps as we passed. Drivers honked their horns. The police escorted the March. They blocked the traffic. They enabled the March. They even participated in it. There was one, obviously a cop but in plain clothes, participating in the chants with a small bullhorn...picking it up when things went quiet, fist bumping some of his colleagues as the March passed by.
The March paused for 8 and a half minutes under the bridge that crosses to the high school stadium to honor George Floyd. It hit me hard that this was my daughters' town, even though they were raised in next door Maywood. This is their community.
That evening I found myself still processing the days' events. My daughters said they were proud of me for coming. I was proud of them. We were proud of Hackensack, and yes we were proud of the way the police handled everything.
I felt that something had happened. Some kind of empowerment. Not just a white man's self-validation or token self-righteousness. But just glad to have been part of something. A change that might just be happening – for the Black community alone and for everyone.
My day ended with another tear.
Hot day, cool protest
Peaceful, powerful, focused
Black Lives do Matter
The racist underbelly