‘No Justice?’ ‘No Peace!’ Pelham rally seeks to give white residents glimpse of black experience



The crowd marching up Fifth Avenue Saturday from the Pelham Art Center belted this simple message to all of Pelham as it made its way to the George Floyd memorial in Wolfs Lane Park. It was a perfect, clear and sunny Saturday, and despite the global pandemic, people bustled about on errands and met friends. The message of those marching in the Pelham Unity Rally and breaking that peaceful scene? Black Lives Matter. They were joined shortly by another group of the same size that had marched from the Pelham Public Library to the memorial.

There, the combined group would stand for the next two hours, listening to the experiences of people of color in Pelham, spoken word pieces, demands for change and what to do next. The rally was organized by Pelham Together, Bridges of Pelham—named for Ruby Bridges, the first black student to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana—and Pelham United.

The goal of the Pelham Unity Rally was to “give the black voices of our community the platform to speak their truth,” said Veronica Stern, an organizer. “We wanted the white residents of Pelham to get a glimpse into the black experience and open up conversations on race that are typically swept under the rug in our town.” 

The demands of the march organizers included defunding the three Pelham police forces as they are currently and increasing racial awareness and education in the Pelham schools. The speakers also charged white allies with the responsibility of calling out racism in their communities and among friends and families, as well as being actively anti-racist.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers, protests have persisted around the country, with demands for justice and the dismantling of systematic racism and defunding of police departments. Before the rally, the response in Pelham included nightly vigils for Floyd in Wolfs Lane Park and a march organized by the Progressive Women of Pelham.

Speakers on Saturday included Pelham residents Morgan Jenkins, Jeff Watkins and Vershone Bowser, Bridges of Pelham members Krystal Howell, Emily Brice-Tancredi Agbenyega, Ossie Gamaldo and Janice Powers, Julia Chung, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services for the Pelham school district, and Laura Caruso, executive director of Pelham Together. They addressed topics ranging from racism in the Pelham schools to personal experiences with racism in the community. The speakers were emotional, passionate and direct. Several speeches ended with the call to “SAY HIS NAME,” and the response from the crowd, “GEORGE FLOYD.” 

“My hope for what comes after the event is that these conversations keep happening, that white people think twice before they act and speak, and that the black community feels more supported and seen in Pelham,” said Stern.