Around 300 people of all ages and races, from Ithaca College to Cornell to the general community, marched in the Black Lives Matter event Saturday, showing solidarity in Ithaca’s first official event for the cause.
The event — hosted by a group of community members, students and faculty from nearby schools — began with a march from the Ithaca Commons to Beverly J. Martin Elementary School for a teach-in.
Marchers held signs bearing slogans such as “standing on the side of love.” Some activists also wore shirts with phrases such as “I can’t breathe,” referring to the death of Eric Garner, black man who was killed when a police officer placed him in a chokehold in July 2014.
The marchers alternated chants, shouting “no justice, no peace, no racist police” and “hands up, don’t shoot” along with the movement’s namesake phrase.
The march concluded with a rally outside the elementary school, where activists sang “We Shall Overcome.” Community members gathered inside to hear from several speakers on a variety of topics ranging from understanding the Black Lives Matter movement, racism in the Ithaca area and the empowerment of youth in the area.
All of the panelists educated the audience on different aspects of Black Lives Matter as well as the adversity black residents face in Ithaca. Prof. Sean Bradwell, culture, race and ethnicity, Ithaca College, spoke about the opposition to the movement.
“The response of All Lives Matter is a result of white supremacy,” Bradwell said. “The reason why it is white supremacy is because it is not an organic. It’s used as a response to silence black lives, and that is the work of white supremacy.”
Another panelist, Rita Bunatal, an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, said the racism she faces everyday makes it difficult for her to be part of the conversation.
“I pray that I can correct a fellow classmate without being perceived as an angry black woman,” Bunatal said.
Prof. Nia Nunn Makepeace, women and gender studies, Ithaca College, said it is difficult to teach college students to recognize their privilege and combat their ignorance.
“The majority of my students that are white don’t identify themselves as white,” Makepeace said.
The group then broke out into three sessions focusing on the Fourth Amendment, gentrification and food justice and the need to work together as a community to combat racism. In each session, leaders gave background information regarding their topic and held question and answer sessions for those in attendance.
Prof. Russell Rickford, history, was one of the most involved planners in the event.
“The idea came after the Charleston, South Carolina shooting. Several of us connected to Africana were thinking about responses,” Rickford said. “The idea to hold a teach in through Black Lives Matter [was chosen] because we felt it was a way to respond to anti-blackness not only in Charleston but around the world.”
Attendees represented a wide variety of community groups, which organized with the goal of addressing the prevalent racism.
“The community was planning with us,” Rickford said. “Folks came from a lot of institutions, schools, service groups, and congregations. Everyone took their message back to their community. I’d say word of mouth was the way people heard about this.”
Jamel Simmons ’16, one of the Cornell students in attendance, said he felt that the topics discussed throughout the event spoke to his personal experiences.
“As a black person, I’ve dealt with a lot of the issues discussed today: police oppression, food deserts. I’ve been through all of that,” Simmons said.
In the future, Rickford said he hopes Black Lives Matter events will continue in the community.
“I think Black Lives Matter can be a way to shift from outrage to resistance,” Rickford said.