Around 450 people gathered in Providence’s India Point Park yesterday for the March for Racial Justice Rhode Island. This was one of over 20 sister marches that took place across the country this weekend. The nationwide events were held “because as long as U.S. laws, policies, and practices remain steeped in racism and white supremacy, basic human rights and civil rights for all – our universal and constitutional rights – will never be fully realized,” according to the march’s website.
The speakers at the event addressed various topics related to racial inequality, like gentrification, the school-to-prison pipeline, police brutality, and lack of political representation.
“Don’t ask me to stand for a national anthem,” said Marco McWilliams. McWilliams is the Director of the Black Studies program at Direct Action for Rights and Equality, and was the first speaker of the day. “I cannot stand for a national anthem as long as my people are in the chains of something called the prison-industrial complex…I cannot stand so long as our children continue to attend dilapidated and underfunded schools.”
McWilliams, like many of the later speakers, used his time at the podium as a call to action, telling attendees that they have the power to create change. The speakers, who were all people of color, often shared stories of their experiences with racism and inequality.
Tatiana Jones is an HIV positive black trans woman who works for Project Weber and Renew. When she was at the podium, she reflected on when her 11-year-old niece learned about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this year. She asked Jones if her white friends from school thought of her the way the white people in Charlottesville did. “When 11-year-olds are asking us questions that we can’t answer, something is wrong,” Jones said.
State Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell told the crowd about her path to the State House last year, and being the only black woman in the General Assembly. Ranglin-Vassell is also a Providence public school teacher, and remembered the ten students she has lost to gun violence.
Throughout the rally, volunteers were walking through the crowd with donation buckets for relief in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Along the sides of the rally, various community groups had set up tables where attendees could come learn more about their organizations.
Lesley Bunnell, who helped organize the March for Racial Justice RI, said she was excited that hundreds of people showed up. She said she hoped they were inspired by the speakers, but she noted, “our intent wasn’t to have just an event for speaking.” That’s why they had the tables – so that people could go meet the groups that inspired them and get involved in fighting against racial injustice in Rhode Island.