Representatives of several Boston-based racial justice organizations gathered at the State House Friday to deliver one message in unison: “Enough is enough!”
The event was led by Brothers Building, a local group for Black men developed and staffed by the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corp, and marked the 57th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. was one of several civil rights leaders who delivered iconic speeches. In Boston, speakers were firmly focused on the here and now: police accountability, mass incarceration, housing affordability and pandemic rent moratoriums, and media coverage that accurately reflects Black communities and activism in Massachusetts.
“This event is trying to improve our wellness. Because for far too long since our existence in this country, we have been deprived of our freedom. We are being ripped from our rights, and we are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Enough is enough,” said James Mackey, manager of Brothers Building and lead organizer, as he stood on the State House steps, framed by about 30 fellow community organizers.
The event was advertised as a press conference, with speakers addressing their calls to action to elected officials and the news media, but organizers were clear that they intended to expand the boundaries of a press event, weaving poetry, rap, and buoyant chants in with prepared speeches.
“We are not here for photo ops. We are not here for handshakes and empty promises. We are not here for sound bites.... But we are here to stand in our square and say enough is enough,” said Daniel Laurent, an artist and Brothers Building member who kicked off the event with spoken-word poetry.
Organizers asked the media to abstain from requesting exclusive interviews and to wait to publish stories until after the event, moves they said would allow Black communities to tell their own stories in their own words first.
Personal narrative formed a strong core of the event, withincarcerated and formerly incarcerated people sharing their experiences with the court and prison systems.
“I could be your son. I could be your brother. I could be your father. I could be your friend. I can be you,” said Ricky McGee, an activist for prison reform, who phoned into the event from MCI Norfolk Prison, where he is serving a life sentence.
In addition to mass incarceration, the event addressed racial inequities in policing, housing, education, small-business funding, and treatment of Black women. Speakers represented a number of organizations: NAACP Boston branch, ACLU of Massachusetts, Black Economic Council of Massachusetts, Families for Justice as Healing, the African American Coalition Committee at MCI Norfolk Prison, Black Market, and City Life Vida Urbana, and Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation.
Several speakers drew on themes and now-famous speeches from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that made history 57 years earlier. They expressed solidarity with the thousands of protesters who on Friday flocked to the nation‘s capital to demand justice.
“We put our faith into action today as we have for generations in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are convened in Washington, D.C., who are trying to move us closer toward justice, so that we as a people can finally live in this country, our country, the United States of America, in peace,” said Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch.
A crowd of more than 50 onlookers gathered on Beacon Street throughout the afternoon. Some were equipped with protest signs, and others were passersby who stopped to listen, applaud, and chant along with speakers.
”I’m here because our lives, Black lives do matter,“ said Kim L. of Hyde Park, who said she had arrived in time to hear the last few speakers and appreciated them for standing up and speaking out.
Another onlooker, Diane Sullivan of Medford, said she decided to take public transit for the first time during the pandemic after hearing about the rally on social media. “I’m here to hear from the experts,” she said.
Several speakers pointedly referenced the Legislature at whose front door they stood, voicing support for legislation that would extend rent moratoriums and institute police reforms. Police accountability legislation has been held up in committee negotiations for more than a month, despite promises in July from lawmakers that action would be swift. Regarding this delay, too, organizers said enough.
“This Sept. 1, we will no longer allow our elected officials to say ‘Yes, Black lives matter’ today and vote ‘no’ on policies that affirm this truth tomorrow,” said Segun Idowu, executive director of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts.
As much as the event focused on addressing powerful figures in politics and media, speakers also affirmed Black communities, for whom they said “enough” held a second, equally powerful meaning.
“We are enough. The Black people gathered here are enough,” said Rahsaan Hall, director of racial justice programs for ACLU Massachusetts. “We are enough to make this moment transformative.”