Sonnet L’Abbé, one of the organizers of the Black Lives solidarity demonstration on Friday afternoon at Maffeo Sutton Park, raises her fist during one of the speeches. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Black Lives solidarity demonstration fills Nanaimo park

Anti-racism protest held at Maffeo Sutton Park on Friday afternoon

Protesters in Nanaimo acknowledged anti-black and indigenous racism and listened to calls imploring people to do better.

A Black Lives solidarity demonstration was held Friday at Maffeo Sutton Park echoing Black Lives Matter protests around the world. Protesters marched from Diana Krall Plaza to the park where there were speeches, songs, poems, and remembrance for black and indigenous people killed by police officers.

Sonnet L’Abbé, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said it’s time for people to come together to collectively mourn and recognize systemic racism, a “broken” police system and the reality that notions of white supremacy exist.

“This is a time to come together to say black lives matter…” she said. “This is a time to say, black people, we see you, we see your excellence, we see your contributions, we no longer erase your presence. Black people, we see your pain, we see the part we may have played in causing it. We see your strength. Black people, we love you. Black people, we value you.”

Shalema Gantt, Nanaimo African Heritage Society president, said racism is ugly and compared it to a disease.

“Let’s find a cure, let’s get rid of racism and it starts with you and me and it starts today,” she said.

Black speakers shared personal experiences of racism, including Keisha Dixon-Perks, who composed a poem listing times in her life when she heard black slurs or understood them to be implied.

“I know everyone is here to support, but I know that most people do want more of an understanding,” she said. “I’ve always been scared to offend someone or to call someone out when they are mean to me or racist to me or to somebody else and I stopped doing that and it feels a lot better.”

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Trev Snell cautioned people against feeling like things will go back to normal if the Minneapolis police officers responsible or complicit in George Floyd’s death face justice.

“There was no normal before. You think there’s a normal now?” Snell asked.

He said racism might be more in-your-face in the United States, but said in Canada, it’s still there, just sometimes more hidden. He hopes that this moment in time can help bring lasting change.

“Right now everyone’s all fired up and I want to keep that fire up…” Snell said. “I want them to sleep and dream about change and when they wake up in the morning, be like, ‘you know what? I want to make the world better and if not for me, then for my kids.’”

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Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson issued a statement Friday, saying she is devastated and outraged about the multiple tragedies that have impacted the black community in the U.S. and in Canada.

She said one of the actions the B.C. government is taking is its Resilience B.C. anti-racism network meant to provide leadership and focus by connecting communities with information, support and training to respond to and prevent incidents of racism.

“When we witness racism we have a responsibility to speak out and condemn it,” Malcolmson said. “I’m listening and I’m learning everyday from the brilliant and brave people with lived experience of systemic racism, and from those standing on the front lines right now, working for change.”

RELATED: Black Lives solidarity demonstration to be held in Nanaimo

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