Black Women Make History, Unite Hundreds in Elmont & Valley Stream for #BlackLivesMatter Protest
Two Black women, Goldie Harrison (an Elmont alumna and creative entrepreneur) and Christine Rivera (a Valley Stream alumna and criminal defense attorney) co-organized a historic and peaceful #BlackLivesMatter protest on June 1, 2020.
Hundreds of Elmont and Valley Stream residents gathered together and marched in unity and solidarity for the full humanity and dignity of Black lives and against Anti-Black terror, violence, and systemic racism in America.
At one point, Harrison asked the crowd, “For how many of you is this your first protest?” and nearly everyone raised their hands.
Protests have erupted across America following the May 25th torture and killing of George Floyd — a 46-year-old Black father, brother, and friend — by four Minneapolis Police officers entrusted with his safety. Mr. Floyd’s death — eventually ruled a homicide after an independent post-mortem autopsy — was incidentally live-streamed by an eyewitness and quickly went viral sparking justifiable widespread outrage.
Both the video footage and the facts of the matter — that these officers had no regard for Mr. Floyd’s life and were not yet charged with his death — triggered waves of vicarious trauma for Black and Indigenous People of Color and highlighted the Anti-Black racism & systemic violence that has claimed countless Black lives, including the painfully tragic yet all too familiar stories of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and a harrowing graveyard of others.
In the shadow of Elmont Memorial High School, Rivera and Harrison convened a crowd of protesters (read: students, alumni, parents, grandparents, educators and community members) inside of the parking lot across the street from the St. Boniface Roman Catholic Church on Elmont Road.
Here, the organizers made intentional and sacred space for a micro-community, where they strategized for civic engagement, distributed “Know Your Rights” materials, and emphasized the importance of completing the 2020 Census.
The march then started down Dutch Broadway, as organizers, Nassau County Police, and a local motorcycle club all flanked the hundreds of protesters, looking to maintain order and peace. Motorists emphatically honked their horns in support — some holding their phones to record the protest — while others raising a closed fist in the air for pro-Black solidarity.
Families, including parents, grandparents, and children lifted signs that read, “I Can’t Breathe,” “Say Her Name,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Justice for George Floyd.” In addition to St. Boniface R.C. Church and Dutch Broadway, the protestors also marched directly past another Elmont community landmark — the Nassau County Police Department’s Fifth Precinct.
The once-downsized precinct, scaled down to a satellite center due to budget cuts until 2015, was now fully manned by uniformed officers wearing beat gear and standing seemingly in defense of the fully restored facility.
Just moments before, in the Western Beef parking lot, two community members handed out bottles of water to the crowd from inside the trunk of their car, refreshing the marchers in light of the road traveled and in preparation for the journey ahead.
Besides representing their local communities, Harrison and Rivera represent 24:OURS, a creative agency + collective based in New York City that bridges the gap between music, media, and community. 24:OURS is a platform that gives Black and Brown creatives a chance to be seen and heard through different mediums.
Art and creative expression are now and always have been an integral component of protests, activism, and Black liberation movements. Rivera and Harrison were strategic and intentional about featuring various types of art and expression during the protest.
A saxophonist and acoustic guitar player covered Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
During the closing ceremony, Elmont alumna, Phylisha Mitchell belted out a soul-stirring rendition of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” igniting a mass choir that resounded throughout Valley Stream State Park. A pair of self-identified Christians, one Black and one Indian, led the crowd in an impassioned singing of “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”
For the remainder of the demonstration, the organizers facilitated a multi-generational and culturally diverse “Open Mic” Session, passing the lone megaphone to virtually anyone who wanted to speak or express themselves, as they were propped up by fellow protesters who affirmed their collective pain and applauded calls for justice and systemic reform.
Organizers instructed protestors to take a knee and observe a moment of silence and erected a candlelight vigil honoring the stolen lives of Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Arbery, and innumerable others.
As of June 8, 2020, all four Minneapolis police officers have been fired and charged. Derek Chauvin’s charges have been increased to 2nd-degree manslaughter, while the remaining three officers are facing charges of aiding and abetting a 2nd-degree murder. Each officer has been afforded due process and will have the opportunity to challenge these alleged crimes with legal representation. Mr. Floyd will never have such a privilege.
What happened in Elmont and Valley Stream on June 1, 2020, is far from an aberration. Young people are rising up across the world, in America, and especially all over Long Island.
Protests have emerged in Long Island towns like Baldwin, Franklin Square, Mineola, and Smithtown. Almost two weeks ago, nearly 6,000 protestors marched in Merrick after an earlier video went viral showing a smaller group of Black protestors being turned away by White residents draped in American flags alongside their children, “Go West! Go back where you came from.”
Organizers and advocates like Harrison and Rivera are strategizing for long-term, meaningful change. Rather than a moment in time made possible by an earth-halting pandemic — young people like these two are mobilizing for a movement — one concerned with building collective and sustainable power, accountability, equity, liberty, and justice for all.
Written by Karl A. Valere