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'Time to be fixated on justice,' says 17-year old at Black Lives Matter march (16 Photos)

Hundreds marched tonight in Collingwood, and for the second time this week, against anti-black racism and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

Hundreds marched tonight again in Collingwood against anti-Black racism and in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

The march started at Collingwood Town Hall at about 6:30 p.m. and ended at the Awen Gathering Circle. Along the way, local police redirected traffic and the marchers filled all of the westbound lanes of First Street until they turned off along Cedar and into Harbourview Park. 

At the Awen Gathering Circle, a few speakers took the stage. Brenda Miller was first. 

She said said life has gotten progressively better for each generation of Black people in Canada, but there is still systemic racism and Black people still face inequality and injustice because of the colour of their skin. She called on the crowd to help bring an end to the systemic racism, so the next generation of Black children will not have to face the struggles at all. 

A Grade 11 student, Anisha Bensdira brought the crowd to its feet with an impassioned speech. 

"Sensitive issues cannot be addressed in comfort," said Bensdira.  "It took a person being suffocated to death for us to talk about something we've been silent on for far too long."

She said she has vivid memories of being on playgrounds and being told she couldn't pretend to be a certain princess or superhero because they were not Black. 

"Bullets aren't the only targeted racism," she said, noting for too long Black people, and children especially, have been subjected to negative stereotypes, and like plants that are not cared for, their roots have been damaged by neglect. 

"We cannot erase the past, but we can change the future," she said. "We are all members of the same species. Is it fair from this point forward we can ask to be treated this way – the same?" 

She called on people to stop using negative stereotypes. She called on the crowd to nurture children, to teach them diversity, let them know white is not the only standard of beauty and help them understand white is not a superior race.

"Our last option is to make our voices heard," she said. "No one can be silent ... It's now time to be fixated on justice." 

Janie Cooper-Wilson, who is a descendent of the Cooper family, and related to the Sheffield family by marriage, echoed Bensdira and Miller's call for change. Both the Cooper and the Sheffield families arrived in Collingwood before the town's incorporation. 

"It's comfortable to deny systemic racism exists in Canada," she said. "I'm here to take you out of your comfort zone." 

She said as an elder she is skeptical of lasting change, because she has been fighting for it her whole life and is from a long line of people who have been fighting for equal rights. 

"[I am] proud to be descended from slaves because they give us the stamina to keep going," she said. "Anything we go through today is nothing compared to what they went through. They left us a legacy and we must honour that." 

She called on people to educate themselves about other cultures, history and facts. 

"I demand of everyone, give due respect to your Indigenous brothers and sisters, your Black brothers and sisters, and your Asian brothers and sisters," she said. "It's crucial to take the fear out of the equation by educating yourself about other cultures. We are Canadians first and foremost." 

She encouraged people to call on politicians to make change, and to make them listen. 

"Keep your feet warm and your heads cool and always carry yourself with dignity and respect," she said. "I've got your back as long as I can." 

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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