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From the King’s Dream to a call for America to get its knee off our necks: We March on Washington

A woman reacted to a speaker during Friday's "Get Off Our Necks" Commitment March in Washington.
A woman reacted to a speaker during Friday's "Get Off Our Necks" Commitment March in Washington.ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lily Marshall wasn’t sure she was coming to the March on Washington.

Marshall had thought about traveling from Massachusetts to attend Friday’s Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks!, a demonstration organized by National Action Network in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. But the summer went on. And the pandemic, like police brutality, continued. She just hadn’t made a plan.

And then Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly killed Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum. They were protesting police brutality in Kenosha, Wis., this week. And their killer ran right toward the police, carrying a rifle, hands in the air. Witnesses said he shot people. Cops drove on by.

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Huber was shot in the chest. Rosenbaum was shot in the groin, back, and hand. His thigh was wounded. And a bullet grazed his head.

Marshall, a 31-year-old fine gardener, booked a last-minute flight to D.C. She left Dorchester Friday morning to make it to the protest that drew tens of thousands to the capital.

“I just don’t understand how you shoot someone in the head and make it home safely and get arrested with dignity, meanwhile Jacob Blake is paralyzed in a hospital. He was handcuffed to his bed. I feel defeated. They are out here murdering us. That’s enough. And that is why I am here.”

It was Aug. 28, just 57 years ago when thousands of people just like us stood near these same steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

But we’re not done marching.

“We are in unprecedented, uncertain times. We are challenged by the state of the nation and the crisis we face, but the state of our movement, it is strong, and another world is possible,” said Representative Ayanna Pressley at the march.

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“Yes, it is possible to legislate justice and accountability, people over profits, joy over trauma, freedom over fear. Yes, it is possible to write budgets that actually value Black lives,” she said. “If it feels unfamiliar, that’s because it has never been done in America. We will meet the moment. We will work towards healing, justice, and collective liberation like our lives depend on it. Because they do.”

Beneath our masks and under a sweltering D.C. sun, we knew she was right. We’ve been fighting this fight for generations. America has eaten our young while feeding off our labor. We can no longer be your buffet. We were there not just to fight for our lives, but to benefit from the balm that is radical togetherness. We need healing.

Che Anderson, a Worcester cultural development officer, said he had to be here.

“The march itself is precipitated by the continued killing of Black folk by police in this country. And it’s on a historic date, meant to replicate a historic event that happened before I was born. What I’m looking for is some community healing and uplift and a charge to mobilize,” said Anderson, 31. “I couldn’t miss it.”

Left to right, Lily Marshall, Jabari Peddie, Eveliny Pina, and Che Anderson, all from Massachusetts, marched on Washington Friday.
Left to right, Lily Marshall, Jabari Peddie, Eveliny Pina, and Che Anderson, all from Massachusetts, marched on Washington Friday.Tyler Dolph

Friday morning, he bought a Black Lives Matter T-shirt. The letters were made up of names of Black people killed or brutalized by police. The vendor told Anderson by the time he picked the shirts up from the printer this week, they were out of date because the names of Trayford Pellerin and Jacob Blake were missing. We say their names for the power of memory, to remind folk they lived, to make the last name the last name.

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On Aug. 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched. It’s been 65 years. We still say his name. We can’t even get an anti-lynching bill passed in 2020.

“It is upsetting that we are here for the same reasons we were here before,” said Eveliny Pina, 28. “We continue to face the same issues at the hands of the same people, racism and specifically anti-Blackness is thriving in this country.”

Pina, who works for the Massachusetts Department of Education, traveled to D.C. from Dorchester with her partner, Jabari Peddie. She believes Bostonians have a place at the march on Washington.

“For too long, I think people have assumed there’s no racism in Northern states or cities we refer to as being liberal. Boston does have racism. It is very much segregated. And there continues to be acts of violence against Black people in Boston. Racism is just as much an issue in Boston as it is anywhere else.”

Peddie, director of leadership development for Building Excellent Schools, is still wrapping his head around the weight of the pain of the police shootings of unarmed Black people.

“Every time it hurts a little bit more,” said Peddie, 35. “I think I am healing — but slowly. I probably don’t even know how much I’m hurting, but I feel like I’m trying.”

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The march, for him, for all of us, was part of that effort.

“To me it is a matter of life or death and I honestly mean that,” Peddie said. “And it’s a risk living right now for a person of color, holding the identity I hold. You gamble with either COVID or you gamble when you leave your house. There are so many people that have felt powerless during this time. I want to shoulder some of that burden. This is one of those times to reclaim the power that is in my ancestry.”

And we did. For hours we stood under the sun, sweating but delighting in the community of each other, the tired and weary, the beautifully Black, the allies, and the taste of freedom in our future.

Our freedom cry is loud. And our righteous anger is rooted in love for the people so hot the sun seared 90 degrees and the humidity cracked the sky wide open as a storm rolled in later that night.

When we wake up tomorrow, all won’t be resolved. We will be fighting this fight with our vote, with our voices, with the we way hold our elders and lost ones in our spirit. Brick by brick, we will dismantle the system that says we don’t matter.

Martin Luther King III, in his father’s footsteps, spoke to the crowd at the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial before we marched to his father’s memorial.

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“We are socially distant, but spiritually united,” he said. “We are masking our faces, but not our faith and freedom.”

We are here. We are here in a pandemic that is killing us, asking our country to stop killing us.

America is the one with a mask on, a costume of freedom and faith so limited and vicious it requires resting on our necks to live it. Suffocation season is over.

There are masks on our faces, but the freedom fight is strong and it’s on. America, the revolution is live.




Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.