by Richard Lamb—Advance Editor
“We’re gathered here on this beautiful day to stand up for the rights and respect that are due and long overdue to our black and brown neighbors—our fellow Americans,” said Brittany VanderWall in greeting around 80 people Saturday at Westminster Park in Rogers City. VanderWall, along with Garrison Benson, Katherine Wilbur and Michele Zwolinski organized the peaceful march.
The group encouraged all citizens to stand up for one another, and in a peaceful march brought that message to Rogers City. They marched up Third Street and looped by Lakeside Park to return to Westminster Park. Zwolinski emphatically told marchers they were there to demonstrate in peace, with many, if not all of the marchers, residing in the county.
“Peace is not silence. Peace is not turning a blind eye to injustice,” Zwolinski said. She urged participants to be active and “show Rogers City what peace looks like,” before leading the group out.
They chanted “no justice, no peace; what do we want, justice, when do we want it, now; black lives matter; say his name, George Floyd, say her name, Breonna Taylor; I can’t breathe; whose town is this, our town,” as they marched the route.
“We accomplished more than we initially had hoped. Originally, we wanted to organize a Black Lives Matter March in Rogers City. What we ended up doing was creating a network of community members dedicated to speaking up and showing up. We registered new voters. We discovered a whole new, beautiful side of our town that maybe was previously hidden away out of fear,” Zwolinski said.
“The general feeling we got from the group who showed up on Saturday was one of hope. So many people voiced their appreciation and support and it was truly amazing to see such a sense of community. I grew up in Rogers City and have lived here for the majority of my life, and Saturday was the most at home I’ve ever felt here. There was so much positivity, love, and desire to do and be better. It certainly made me feel hopeful for the future of Rogers City.”
The march came on a perfect June Saturday and proceeded without interference while marchers carried signs and yelled chants.
“We were delighted to see such a huge crowd of Rogers City folks marching peacefully in solidarity with our black neighbors, towards a better town and a better America,” Benson said. Benson read a poem by Langston Hughes titled “Let America Be AmericaAgain.”
“I think the event went really well! It was exactly what we had envisioned; peaceful, respectful, safe, and community-driven. Even more than that, it was incredibly family-friendly and provided a way for people to begin having a conversation with their children about race, and the challenges that people of color face in our country,” Zwolinski said.
A video of the event can be viewed on the Advance Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/112568402105188/videos/687620465147699/