NEWBURGH – People gathered in Downing Park on July 4th to speak out about systemic racism and the need for change on all levels.
Organized by people from Cornwall and Newburgh, but drawing people from as far away as Rockland County, those gathered were presented an opportunity to speak via an “open mic.” For more than two hours, stories were told, concerns were made and prayers were given, while others simply listened.
City of Newburgh Councilman Anthony Grice encouraged everyone to get involved. “Ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference?” He said he thought he would never have to explain that his life matters or expressing it could be so divisive.
That message resonated with Coby Thomas who helped create “Make A Difference.” The purpose was simple – What are we going to do to change? He noted that this is a battle of all towns in all states across America. So Thomas joined with other Cornwall youth to create a platform for other organization to network and communicate with each other about events regarding the movement, share ideas and create content.
“We need to make it different. It’s not just Black people’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem, we’re all American’s,” Thomas said.
Allan Shaffer, a local physician from Cornwall, said he had to be there when asked why he was going by fellow doctors. When he heard there were two areas coming together to join forces and protest, he really wanted to be a part of that.
Shaffer has been very involved with Covid-19 as a Pulmonary Doctor. “I’m considered an essential worker. When there’s an emergency, I’m one of the people that has to go to work. What’s the definition of an essential worker? It’s someone who has to go to work to protect and better the people they serve.” That’s when the lightbulb went off for him. “The national emergency we are seeing right now, since George Floyd, and even before, the systemic oppression of the Black community is going on now. This is a true emergency. Why? Because we finally have momentum to create change,” he explained to thunderous applause.
Vanessa Cheatham added her voice to the conversation saying, “It’s so wonderful to see so many people from different backgrounds coming together for equality and justice. We have so much more work to do. This is just the beginning. We have to take action.”
Hailie Festa made the drive from Rockland County to participate in the Fourth of July event.
“I want everybody here to know white people are on their side and we are here to support the Black Lives Movement. It just doesn’t make any sense that white people are treated better than Black people just because of the color of their skin. Where does that come from?”
She paused for a moment and added, “Why are white people oppressing Black people for nothing other than their race? It doesn’t click with me and that’s wrong and we are here to change that.”
The group then marched from Downing Park to City Hall chanting the names of lives lost at the hands of police. More peaceful protests and demonstration are being planned.