New Haven youth target gun violence, inequality at Black history month march
Lisa Bergmann / People's World

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—A caravan of 20 cars and a group of 65 people took to the streets of New Haven on Feb. 20 to call for an end to gun violence and police brutality, taxing the rich, and to demand state and federal relief for communities of color impacted by COVID-19. The Annual Black History Month Youth March was organized by the Connecticut People’s World Committee alongside Ice the Beef and New Haven Rising as part of the local People’s World 47th African American History Month Celebration.

The event kicked off with a speech by Manuel Camacho, a leader with the local Young Communist League and the youth president of Ice The Beef. Camacho invoked Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to action against systemic racism and oppression. He spoke about the need for community members to come together and move forward as one. Camacho spoke to rally-goers gathered at Tyrick B. Keyes Corner at the intersection of Bassett and Newhall in New Haven before they marched and continued down Dixwell Avenue to the future site of Q House, a community center currently under construction.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl,” he said quoting King. “But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

Bobby McKnight then spoke on behalf of the Keyes family about the aftermath of Tyrick’s death as a victim of gun violence. Keyes, an aspiring 14-year-old dancer, was killed in 2017 on Bassett Street. Keyes had also been an active member of Ice the Beef Youth. After Keyes’s death, McKnight dedicated himself to working with youth across the community.

“Tyrick inspired me to do all that and to try to make a difference.”

Newhallville Ward 20 Alder Delphine Clyburn rallied the crowd with an impassioned speech about the continual loss of children to gun violence. For her, the march was about protecting the most vulnerable of youth.

“I’m here because they are killing my kids. I could be home cooking for my husband, but I’m here,” she said. “It is time to stop killing my kids.”

Courtesy of Ken Suzuki

Yeni, a representative of Connecticut Students for a Dream (C4D), and Hunky for Husky for Immigrants, spoke about the need to expand healthcare access to all immigrants regardless of status and open eligibility to the state’s HUSKY public health coverage program, especially in response to the toll COVID-19 has taken on undocumented communities. Oppressive systems like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the school-to-prison pipeline were targeted in the remarks, highlighted as being among the systems set up to divide marginalized communities.

Remedy from ICE The Beef spoke about the need to take organizing to the next level and reach a point where there are no longer street corners named after gun violence victims. For him, the people in the community need to take care of one another, especially those experiencing homelessness, a sector of the community who have been excluded for so long.

“His [Keyes’s] name should not be on the street ’cause he was slain,” Remedy said. “His name should be on the street because he was alive and led an excellent life.”

To close out the first part of the march, the Connecticut YCL awarded Sen. Gary Winfield and Rep. Robyn Porter the Black History Month Victory Award to honor them as the driving force behind the state legislature’s police watchdog bill, HB 6004 An Act Concerning Police Accountability (AACPA). Porter tearfully accepted the award, citing the community as the wind beneath her wings.

She spoke about the need to elect officials with “backbones” who will stand by their values, especially against systemic racism and other forms of oppression. “There is no compromise when it comes to life or death,” she said. “There is no compromise, about having a conscience.”

Winfield echoed many of Porter’s sentiments by asking that the youth present rise to the occasion and take over the senate by filling up those seats. He also called for diverse legislation that better represents the people across the state. “If your policy isn’t as intersectional as the people you represent, then it is not working.”

Lisa Bergmann / People’s World

When the caravan and marchers set off, at the front was Sun Queen, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter New Haven (BLM NHV), who led chants about protecting one another. She later spoke about the importance of belonging to a village and holding each other accountable.

“No Justice!” she cried. “No peace!” The crowd roared back.

In front of the Q House, youth took to the microphone with Camacho asking that people take action in the present and no longer wait to act. “The time is always right to do what is right,” he said, citing King again.

Genesis, a member of the Hartford YCL, drew attention to the isolation and depression students across the state are experiencing amidst the social distancing of the pandemic. He also touched on the fear faced by members of the LGBTQIA + community and his own experiences. “I’m a seventh-grader. I shouldn’t be worried about leaving my house or how someone is going to treat me because of the color of my skin or my gender and sexuality.”

Elsa Holahan, the youth director of the Q House Student Advisory Board, spoke about the history of the Q House and the importance of a community center in the Newhallville-Dixwell area.

The neighborhood has been without a gathering space for almost 20 years—since the original Q House closed in 2003. For Holahan, the community center is a place for all residents to gather, share space with one another, and grow as a community.

“Although our work within the community is not complete, the reconstitution of the Q House is a step towards equity and justice in New Haven.”

Artist and performer Thabisa closed out the march with a powerful rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come.


CONTRIBUTOR

Arturo Pineda
Arturo Pineda

Arturo Pineda is a freelance writer based out of New Haven, CT. They have written for the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette and New Haven Arts Paper.

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