Protests and Marches Continue to Demand Justice And Equity For Black Americans
For the past week, we've been looking at demonstrations calling for Black human rights happening throughout South Florida. The rallies and marches started because of police violence — now people are calling for an end to systemic racism throughout our country.
Last week, we heard from Homestead, Wilton Manors and Boca Raton. This week we take a look at protests in Riviera Beach, Weston and Coconut Grove.
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In the scorching heat, around 300 mask-wearing protesters from various racial and ethnic backgrounds showed up to the Riviera Beach City Hall and marched down Blue Heron Boulevard, North on Broadway to 30th Street and back.
The “Stronger Together” march was led by black sororities, fraternities, medical organizations, and elected officials. Riviera Beach City Councilman Douglas Lawson helped organize it.
“Police brutality [reform] is just icing on top of the cake,” Lawson said. “We have so many things in this community that we have to change and, the Black elected officials, we determined that there needs to be change across the board, across the justice system.”
The march included a voter registration drive and sign-up tables for the 2020 U.S. Census. The protesters knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd before hundreds took to the streets, led by a pick-up truck pulling musicians inside of a wagon. Meecha, the lead singer, sang upbeat songs and ended the day with “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing.”
The 38-year-old Lawson says the older generation has approached him about their fears.
“I've had individuals... I've had seniors from my community say that 'I was doing this 50 years ago and I'm mad I'm still doing it.' So we've taken times where we've acknowledged certain moments, moments in history,” Lawson said. “But right now, this is a change of times. This is a movement. This is a paradigm shift that's happening right before our eyes.”
Mayor of Riviera Beach Ronnie Felder, Soulan Johnson, VP of development for the Urban League of PBC, County Commissioner Mack Bernard, City Manager Faye Johnson, and a few other city and business leaders joined the march.
Lawson says the demonstrators want to turn the George Floyd moment into a movement for political representation and equity in the community. And he’s already trying to tackle food health policies.
“Food deserts, issues within our community, we're actually trying to feed the community now with the ability that we don't have fresh produce or access to fresh produce,” Lawson said. “So that's why we provide, and we're partnered with Palm Beach Harvest to bring, that fresh produce on a weekly basis right now until we can actually get natural fresh fruits and vegetables in our community.”
In Weston, it was students leading the charge. A few hundred people marched last Friday from Library Park , by Cypress Bay High School, more than two and a half miles to the City Hall parking lot. It was a hot 90 degrees that day.
Jean Qian, 16, is a student at Cypress Bay and helped organize this event with Black Lives Matter Weston.
“We need change and if you don't think the issue exists, it's because it doesn't affect you, and it's really important for individuals to realize that problems that don't impact them directly can impact others still,” she said.
One of the former students from Cypress Bay at the march was Faris Safa, 20.
"I mean, we're in Weston where most people don't have to deal with the police… and people are still out on the streets fighting for change. Because it's gotten that bad,” he said.
His friend Daniela Leiva, 18, marched part of the way with him. She’s lived in both El Salvador and Luxembourg before coming to the U.S.
“When I came here, I found it kind of hypocritical to see that cops do kill a lot of citizens and they swear to protect its citizens,” she said. “But they’re not doing that.”
Safa said he's not sure yet how the start of this movement will continue and move forward.
"I feel like we need to create a movement to educate people, because that's how you're going to create real change. The thing is, yeah the policy. It's all about what you're fighting for. 'Cause anyone can say that you're against racism… but what are you fighting for?"
In a moment when the whole world seem to be listening, Olivia Meyer-Massey, 23, and Vanya Allen, 39, came together in West Coconut Grove to create a space for dialogue.
Except this time the conversation was about much more than police violence.
“There is more than police brutality that is infringing on our ability to have healthy, productive, safe lives," Allen said. "We wanted to talk about the historical displacement of African Americans in the communities that they built so painstakingly."
Coconut Grove is one of South Florida's oldest neighborhoods, which was founded by Bahamian pioneers in the late 1870s. In more recent years, longtime West Grove residents are being pushed out because the neighborhood is so attractive to developers. And Meyer-Massey says it's not just happening here, but in historically Black neighborhoods across the country.
"Since I grew up in Coconut Grove and have have seen it first hand, this is where I wanted to have the conversation," she said.
Their march began at the corner of Douglas Road and Grand Avenue, in the middle of historic West Coconut Grove. Allen began with a libation and a prayer. She poured out a bottle of Ciroc vodka for victims of police brutality and overpolicing.
Afterward, a crowd of hundreds marched to Miami City Hall. People chanted and music blared from the bed of a pickup truck that carried Allen and Meyer-Massey.
One of the mottos that day, Meyer-Massey says, was "protect the hood, respect the hood," meaning "the hood serves you, so now it's time to serve the hood."
What the next thing will be, neither Allen nor Meyer-Massey know.
"It's a huge goal. We're saying we want to stop systemic racism. It took hundreds of years to get it where it is, can we dismantle it in 50? Of course. We made it up, we can change it. But nothing is going to concede without a power. We have power now, is it sustainable? I don't know."
In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly stated the ages of Olivia Meyer-Massey and Vanya Allen. We apologize for the error.