Chesterton Tribune



Juneteenth a peaceful celebration in downtown Chesterton

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200 to 300 people took part in a peaceful march down Broadway on Friday celebrating Juneteenth and signaling solidarity with people nationwide who are speaking out against racism following recent events.

The march was organized by local residents Becky Uehling and Mark Strudas since demonstrations have swept the nation and the region after the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis, Minn. police officer.

Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated in many communities each year, commemorates the day that enslaved African-Americans in Galveston, Texas. were informed of their freedom on June 19, 1865Ñover two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. There is currently a push to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. Target, Best Buy, and U.S. Bank made national headlines last week for declaring it a company holiday.

Chesterton Police Chief Dave Cincoski said the event was well-organized and went smoothly. “The group overall was very respectful and very responsible,” he said. Officers from Portage, Porter, Ogden Dunes, and Burns Harbor and the Chesterton Fire and Street departments assisted in the event. Officers mostly stayed on the sidelines during the march and while speakers addressed the crowd. Several said they were told not to make individual comment to the press.

Participants were required to wear masks and urged to practice social distancing. They met in front of the Chesterton Police Department and marched down Broadway to Thomas Centennial Park, where several local community members spoke about history and racism. Chesterton High School History teacher Bob DeRuntz addressed the crowd first, from the bandstand.

“Our history and our lack of real equality in the past does not have to define us today,” DeRuntz said. “We must understand history, but we do not need to be trapped by it.”

DeRuntz said “everything has context,” and Americans must understand history and listen to each other in order to learn from and solve lasting issues that linger from the past. He emphasized that the Civil War was not as long ago as it seems.

“The last surviving child of a Civil War veteran died only three weeks ago on May 31. Only three weeks ago, you could have sat on Irene Triplett’s couch and talked to her about her father’s experiences in the Civil War,” DeRuntz said. “My point is, it has not been that long-- the span of two lifetimes-- since the horrifying reality of slavery still existed in America, and 1 in 7 Americans was owned by another.”

DeRuntz said Americans can respect good police officers at the same time that they call for reforms, and citizens must work together for a better future. “Equality too long delayed is equality denied,” he said.

Local business owner and Chesterton resident Clarence Webb commended Chesterton’s police officers and said he’s never had a problem with them in 14 years. He said America has made great strides, but there is work yet to be done.

Webb said there’s no right way to care about others, and urged people to learn and listen even when its uncomfortable. He cautioned: “Don’t make the mistake of entering this new world as your old self.”

“My father who just turned 80 remembers having to drink out of colored water fountains and having to sit in the back of the bus and not being able to speak to certain people, even in the military,” Webb said.

“It brings me joy to see that we have stopped waiting for freedom to come and that we have started taking actual steps to include all of God’s children. We will fix this for good this time I just really feel it. We will do the hard things today because that is the sacrifice we will make for our children,” Webb said in closing. “It’s time to get to work. We are from the region. This is the Midwest. We know exactly what work looks like.”

Valparaiso City Council member Robert Cotton asked the crowd, “Is this a moment or a movement?”, and, similar to Webb, said a lot of work is needed to draw change from current events.

Angel Smith, a local resident and accomplished poet in her senior year at Stanford University, performed a poem and spoke about her experiences next. “I can’t imagine a better future without addressing the seeds of violence this country was built on--the bones of Black and Indigenous ancestors whose lives were erased for the sake of preserving an American dream,” she said.

Smith’s poem, performed from memory, was at the same time a celebration of resilience and love in the Black community, a ballad for those lost to police brutality, and a rallying cry for action against racism. “Divorce black from death. You’ll find we have always been alive in love,” she read.

“I am love. I am black. And ain’t those two always been the same thing?”, Smith’s poem concluded.

Smith said the American police system is rooted in a power structure that targets minorities. “It is not just about race,” she said. “This is a gender issue, a class issue, a power issue that grants those with power, wealth, and status the privilege to ignore injustice.”

“I do not have the luxury of not thinking about race. I think about it every time my brother gets behind the wheel of a car. Every time a black person is killed at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect us,” Smith added.

Chesterton residents Kieran and Dennis Penning said they enjoyed the event, and they’ve seen Chesterton as a Town become more aware of diversity over 26 years of living here. The Pennings said they’ve fostered children of different races over the years, and equality and community building is, in a way, their life’s work.

Kieran Penning, for her part, said she was glad the event wasn’t made into a parade, given that Chesterton is a majority white community. “It’s delicate as a white community to tread that line between being supportive and appropriating the holiday,” she said.

Local resident Richard Smith said the event rose above his expectations. “Great crowd. Great speakers. I’d like to see it be a repeat thing,” he said. “I’m proud of my community and the schools I sent my kids too,” he added.

Rodney Pol, who helped organize the event said it was humbling that so many people came out and spent a beautiful Friday afternoon marching in solidarity. He said he thinks events like Friday’s are a long time coming across the nation.

Tina Cingrani said she watched the march from her front porch, and the show of unity almost brought her to tears. “I love it here, and to see what I saw going up and down the street today, I loved it,” she said.

Cingrani said it’s upsetting to her that it seems like racism will never fade, recalling her upbringing on the south side of Chicago and the racial tension that punctuated the 1960s. Cingrani said she was nervous when she moved to Chesterton because her husband is Hispanic, but “We never had a problem.”

Cingrani said there are good cops, but bad cops must be held accountable, and people must continue to speak out against racism. “If they stop protesting, nothing will change. They can’t stop, because if they stop, nothing’s going to change.”



Posted 6/22/2020




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