This past Monday evening, I reached a whole new level of love and respect for my city and its citizens.
On Monday, a rally & vigil was held as an act of solidarity and support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement here in Canada and beyond.
This was my third time attending a local vigil of this kind. My first was in 2014, following the death of Michael Brown. My second, last summer following the death of Sandra Bland.
Those first two vigils were astounding. Both of them deeply moved me on an intricately personal level and as an ally. They stirred my faith in the movement, in myself, and in the future.
But this Monday was something else.
I would never downplay the significance of one event of this kind by overshadowing it with another, but I am using this space here to talk specifically about Monday.
It was a game-changer. This holds true for me personally, and I believe that many of the 400+ men, women and children of colour as well as the many allies in attendance would say the same.
On Monday, I saw First Nations men and women, LGBTQ+ allies, allies of countless different backgrounds, and my city’s black men, women and children gather under one cause— the preservation and celebration of black life.
It was astounding.
I stood beside two beautiful black mothers and their babies. The baby to my right couldn’t have been more than 6 months old. As the vigil began, a joyous chant was started by someone in the crowd.
“Black lives, they matter here! Black lives, they matter here! Black lives, they matter here!”
And a small voice to my right echoed to her small son, “That means YOU! This is about YOU!”
(This was the first of many times I shed some tears.)
What took place in my city and across dozens of others this past week wasn’t just about the here and now. As much as it was about addressing the systemic issues that prevent black people from having the same North American experience as their white counterparts, the protests, vigils and rallies that took place this past week were about the future. Every single mother and father in attendance wasn’t just there for themselves, for their brothers and sisters, or for their friends.
They were their for their futures. They were there fighting for their children’s right to existence.
As the night went on, we heard from an array of incredibly gifted speakers who spoke around many different topics pertaining to blackness and its existence in North American society.
We heard from an extraordinary young woman what it’s like to live in Ottawa as a Jamaican-Canadian. We learned of the racism that has always existed in Ottawa’s police force, and we learned about our own heart-wrenching stories of the murder of innocent black men and women here by police.
“No justice, no peace! No racist police! No justice, no peace! No racist police!”
We heard from a poet who spoke of the many intersections within black life, specifically the black LGBTQ+ community. He spoke of the struggle to simply keep on going.
We heard from a woman who fearlessly and unapologetically demanded justice for Alton Sterling, for Philando Castile, for every single life that has been robbed by a racist system that has never wanted them to prosper.
“Indict! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”
We heard from a woman who reminded us all that self-care is absolutely vital to the continuous preservation and liberation of black life. We were educated on activists’ burnout and black mental health, and as we all reflected on how exhausting these past couple of weeks alone has been, we were reminded that we must love, respect, and pour into ourselves in order to effectively pour into others and into the movement.
We were reminded that though there are many lost lives to mourn, and countless barriers to overcome in the fight for justice and equity, there are also many reasons to celebrate. We were reminded of the black excellence that has and always will bless us in endless ways. That black life in itself is something so exquisite, so beautiful, so magical, that it can and should always be more than enough reason to celebrate and give honour where honour is due.
“We gon be alright! We gon be alright! We gon be alright! We gon be alright!”
One of the organizers, Alicia-Marie, has two daughters.
This is her youngest, who is 5.
Alicia-Marie made it very clear that she would continue mobilizing and organizing events like this until the day that little girl doesn’t have to fight for the chance to simply survive in North America.
This event was put together in two days. I didn’t get to meet either of the two organizers, RJ and Alicia-Marie, as I wanted to allow space for the black men and women whom the vigil was by and for to speak with them. But I wish I could have. I wish I could have thanked them both for the work they are doing, and for creating such a beautiful environment for people to unite together in peace, love, and mutual respect.
One of the things that excites me the most about Monday night is knowing that this is just the beginning. Black lives matter to Ottawa. They matter here. And I know that Monday was just a small glimpse of what we’re truly capable of when we come together to honour and celebrate black life here and everywhere.
I deeply hope that those who have attended other protests, vigils, and rallies across the world have also felt this overwhelming sense of hope in the movement and in the future this week.
Black lives, they matter here.
All photos in this article are compliments of Ben Powless, © All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.