Hundreds of people craned their necks from their restaurant tables on Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street to watch as dozens of Black Lives Matter protesters chanted and marched through Princeton on Saturday, Aug. 1.
The organizers of the Black Lives Matter: Equality Coalition March — Shariese Katrell, Nakeisha Holmes-Ammons, and Ranjit Arapurakal — aimed to educate Princeton residents about racism in their hometown and raise funds to start the first official N.J. Black Lives Matter chapter, which they hope will be based in Princeton.
Protestors gathered outside of the Princeton YMCA at 1:30 p.m. and began a socially-distanced march down Paul Robeson Place, then Tulane Street, Nassau Street, and eventually Witherspoon Street. The march culminated in a series of public speeches by the organizers at Hinds Plaza.
The event included a moment of silence for Rep. John Lewis, the congressman and civil rights-era leader who died on July 17.
Afterwards, protesters marched back to the YMCA to listen to music and hear from more speakers, including a nine-year-old Princeton resident who spoke about her pride in being Black, a student at Mercer County Community College who discussed medical racism, and Godsend, a Newark-based spoken word poet.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian about the goals of the march, Holmes-Ammons, founder of Black Mothers Rising, said that creating a New Jersey Black Lives Matter chapter is necessary to further amplify the voices of the state’s Black residents.
“Policy is not giving us anything to stand for right now in the Black community,” she said. “So we feel we need to … become an affiliate with a chapter of Black Lives Matter to bring out our voice and be heard more within our counties and communities in New Jersey.”
Arapurakal, a musician, expanded on the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole.
“This movement is a movement to root out white supremacy, in all parts of the culture, of our nation,” he told the ‘Prince.’ “Every single member of our society has a role to play in that. You have to look at the institutions we're involved in. You have to look at the institutions that we’re part of, our lives as we were growing up, and we have to look into ourselves in our own internalized racism.”
“Hatred is a taught behavior,” Holmes-Ammons added. “Love is something that you don't have to teach.”
Katrell, a human rights activist, hoped to show protestors that Princeton is not free of racism.
“I’ve been in this community for over 10 years as a resident,” she told protestors before the march began. “I see a lot of systemic racism. I see a lot of racism as a Black, disabled woman. And I see people in my own neighborhood who would rather run to the other side when I’m walking and that needs to end.”
For Katrell, educating the next generation about the history of racism in the United States is crucial to effecting change.
“We need to educate our young people about where we came from, when it started, how different laws were created,” she said.
In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Katrell voiced concern that Black and Brown people do not feel comfortable being in, or opening businesses in, the predominantly white and high-income town of Princeton.
“They fear coming here because they fear being treated unjustly due to the institutionalized racism that we have in the police system, and other areas, especially in high class areas, such as this,” she said. “And we want to inform them that it's okay to open up a Black business in this area, not just in urban areas.”
In her speech in Hinds Plaza, Katrell recounted a time when she was tranquilized and handcuffed to a stretcher after having a seizure in her own home in Princeton.
Protesters were diverse, spanning a wide range of ages and races. In Katrell’s view, that fact is crucial to the march’s mission. One of their goals, she told the ‘Prince,’ was to “bring together diverse people to talk about different issues that might not be talked about.”
For one protestor, Deborah Bell, this was far from the first Black Lives Matter protest she has attended.
“We just want to keep supporting the movement,” said the South Brunswick resident. “I have kids. I have a son who's 20 years old, and I want to make sure that everybody is treated equally, no matter what color you are."
Neha Komatreddy, a Princeton area resident, said she attended the protest to support her Black community members.
“I came to the protest because I think there is a very, very deep systemic racism problem in our country which disproportionately affects Black people,” she said. “And so I would love to just support Black people who are being affected by this and do my part in kind of marching alongside their fight and being of help in any way I can.”
The Aug. 1 march marked the third racial justice protest Katrell has organized this summer.