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.
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.
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
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
“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
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.”