These words, posted on Facebook, were a call to action for our mostly white community. In response, almost 80 people gathered at Lafayette Park, in Kennebunk, Maine, on a warm spring evening. In the midst of a pandemic, the crowd included all ages: some who remembered demonstrating for civil rights back in the 1960s and a substantial group of high school students.
A few weeks before, more than 200 people took part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in front of the Kennebunk Town Hall. After the tragic death of George Floyd, local leaders organized public demonstrations, culminating in a march on June 8. The police department shut down a section of Route 1 to traffic. After speeches by community members, demonstrators lay face-down on the pavement for almost 9 minutes, the time George Floyd took to die.
While that event was a protest, the Juneteenth gathering focused on a community commitment to dismantle racism in all its forms. Organizers set up small group seating areas of folding chairs with flip charts. Discussion topics ranged from racism’s presence in our local public schools, business community, and police department to the importance of self-education on racism.
The need for greater knowledge of the place of black, indigenous, and persons of color (BIPOC) in our local history was also a discussion topic. One group member recalled Jerrianne Boggis, Executive Director at Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, speaking passionately about the need to spread awareness of the history of BIPOC residents in northern New England communities.
She reflected, “As a former social studies teacher in Newark, N.J., I understood the importance of moving beyond a white Eurocentric-focused narrative of our shared American past. Every child, regardless of racial background, should see themselves reflected in their local landscape. No American can understand the reality of structural racism without a nuanced understanding of how racism has shaped our country’s past. Living in a town that celebrates its history primarily through a white lens, I was energized to know more about the diversity in our town’s past and to share that knowledge with the local community.”
Since Juneteenth, the Kennebunk Region BIPOC History Project has met monthly and added members. We’ve formed a partnership with our local history museum, The Brickstore Museum. And we are beginning to uncover the hidden history of black, indigenous and people of color in our community.
Fosters.com: Demonstrators urge Kennebunk’s White Residents to listen to black neighbors. June 8, 2020 https://www.fosters.com/story/news/2020/06/08/hear-us-demonstrators-urge-kennebunks-white-residents-to-listen-to-black-neighbors/113951906/
Facebook Events: Stand in solidarity against racism on juneteenth! https://www.facebook.com/events/1114094208969068/