About 200 people gathered outside Boston Police Headquarters Friday evening at a candlelight vigil to honor Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by police in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 9.
Lit candles in hand, The crowd wrote chalk messages of solidarity on sidewalks, sported signs demanding justice to be done in cases of police brutality and engaged in a number of chants calling for an end to systemic racism.
“No justice, no peace!” and “All power to the people” rang simultaneously from hundreds of voices, led by that of Lakeisha St. Joy, an organizer of the event.
St. Joy, 20, a Boston College student originally from Dorchester, said the racially divisive experiences of both her past and present helped encourage her to hold the vigil.
“Boston is very segregated,” she said. “It’s something that’s too normal. But it’s normal in a way that’s not normal, because people know, but aren’t actively doing anything about it [segregation].”
St. Joy alluded to the changing demographics within different communities of Boston.
There are more white people moving into Dorchester, but it’s not for good reasons,” she said. “It’s not integration, it’s gentrification. So where’s that line that will put it [race relations] together?”
Kenneth Johnson, 32, who grew up in Mattapan and now lives in Dorchester, echoed St. Joy’s sentiments on the division of race within Boston with personal anecdotes.
“It’s pretty ugly,” Johnson said, referring to race relations within Boston. “I grew up here, and I’ve had a lot of situations where you’d just get bludgeoned with curse words, stones and sticks.”
Johnson also spoke about the discursive difficulty he has encountered with race in small social settings.
“I feel like a lot of my white friends are very uncomfortable with the idea of talking about race,” he said. “I have to break them in to the fact that I’m up front about how black I am, because that’s just how I was raised and that’s how life hits me … I have to remind them pretty often to keep me in mind.”
Chrislene DeJean, 25, from Hyde Park, said she was intrigued by Boston’s racial discourse in a more macro sense.
“I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about race in Roxbury,” she said. “It is the ground zero for gentrification right now, and there are so many transformations happening, that it’s no longer for the people that were here in Roxbury for the past 40 years.”
DeJean said there is a disparity between the experience of Bostonians and the way in which that experience is understood by the general public.
“People forget that this city is a half-people-of-color city because we’re not run by people of color,” she said. “… I grew up around black people my whole life, and the most shocking thing to realize is that your city is not viewed as your experience.”
A number of individuals from within the Boston community addressed the crowd with calls to action, personal anecdotes or poetry. Alberto Barreto, 59, originally from Puerto and now living in Lynn, drew applause from the crowd with entreaties for intersectional activism, as well as for reform of financial policies within the American education system.
“One of things that concerns me is the amount of young [international] people who are completing their bachelors or Masters degree, they are not finding jobs and they have incredible student debt.“ said Barreto, who possesses Masters degrees in both theology and political science, as well as a Ph.D in political sociology.
Barreto said despite the current cultural division in Boston communities, the attitudes of young people have given him hope for better relations in the future.
“Architecture and how communities are set up creates barriers,” he said. “… Here we have pockets of people from different nationalities, so it’s not a cohesive type of community. That lack of sense of belonging creates depression, it creates isolation, but I have hope about young people of all races, and I’m hoping that we can get better politics in the next generation.”
St. Joy said she too felt positive about the future of sociocultural relations within Boston, on account of the turnout at the vigil.
“This moment in history is epic,” St. Joy said. “I feel like it’s a turning point, and with black people it’s connecting — really connecting … I’m hoping that the movement doesn’t die and that the revolution is actually starting.”