Students Participate in March for Racial Justice

Claire Choi '19

On September 30th, individuals from all walks of life united on the National Mall for the March for Racial Justice, a nationwide effort to combat systematic racial discrimination in the wake of widespread cases of police brutality, anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia.

Thousands gathered in Lincoln Park carrying colorful handwritten signs declaring, Black Lives Matter,” and urging fellow citizens to “rise and resist.” Marchers enjoyed performances by social activists such as local Reverend Steven Douglass and the DC Labor Chorus before departing from the park to begin their movement towards the Department of Justice and National Mall.

The event was a collaboration with the March for Black Women, and included a series of sister marches in cities across the country. Shouts of “No justice, no peace,” and “Say her name!” reverberated through Washington’s streets, in recognition of the countless African American women who have been subject to over a century of racial and sexual inequity. As the group reached Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, hundreds took a knee in emulation of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the national anthem.

A group of nearly twenty Sidwell Friends students and faculty members attended the march, including Head of School Bryan Garman and Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye.

The March “sought to interrupt white supremacy,” said Shields Sundberg, who teaches the 20th Century Africa and Black Liberation in the Americas history courses. The purpose of the March, she said, “was to look at a series of interlocking oppressions, all of which have white supremacy at the center of them,” and, as a white woman, “recognize that I play a role in the series of interlocking oppressions.”

Sundberg has been a passionate advocate for social change since her adolescent years growing up in Rochester, N.Y. During Sundberg’s time there, the city of Rochester was highly segregated, and protests and racially-focused activism were frequent. In addition to speaking out against issues such as discriminatory “stop-and-frisk” practices, Sundberg worked at a local prison aiding underprivileged minorities in obtaining their General Educational Development diplomas.

“I think the most important issue we can tackle as a society is to liberate ourselves from old frameworks of racial injustice and get to a place where minorities and marginalized groups of people can lead us to a brighter, more inclusive future.”

Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye has also been involved in activist efforts since his youth, and said the March for Racial Justice held a personal significance for him due to the frequent discrimination he experiences based on the color of his skin.

Guèye explained that he often finds it difficult to be accepted by taxi drivers at night, because so much of the American public has developed the prejudiced belief that African American men are a source of danger.

“They will pick up any other person before me; the black male is last on the list,” he said. “And I have experienced that no matter what I wear – a blazer, a jacket – if it’s at dusk, I can’t get a cab.”

In Senegal, where he was born and raised before coming to the United States, Guèye said he had never experienced the level of racial discrimination he has been met with in D.C.

“You looked at people just as human beings, and some had more money than others and some had more power politically, or more land than others, but you [didn’t] segregate,” Guèye said of the general social climate in Senegal. 

“You can buy a house anywhere you want in Dakar, in the capital, if you have the money. But here, the money is not enough. The education is not enough. No matter how educated you are, people will look at you with assumptions,” he said.

Senior Wrayzene Willoughby, who also attended the march, said she has similarly been a victim of racial injustice. She recounted one particularly vivid incident from her childhood, in which she and her family went on vacation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. for the Fourth of July. Willoughby and her cousins had gone to watch a small neighborhood fireworks show when one of the fireworks unintentionally came too close to them, frightening and mildly injuring her younger cousins, who were as young as two years old at the time.

Willoughby’s older cousin approached the individuals who were responsible for the fireworks to ask about the accident, only to be told, “Go back to Africa, we don’t want you here" and “We don’t want your kind.” At the time, Willoughby was seven years old, and said that the encounter has stayed with her since as a constant reminder of the prejudice and bigotry inveterate in American society.

At the March for Racial Justice, however, Willoughby said it was eye-opening for her to see so many African American women who were leaders for social change.

“In my lifetime, I didn’t see a lot of black females as role models,” she said, adding that “I don’t think people understand the power of seeing someone like you...I saw a lot of girls that went to Howard [at the march], and just seeing that they’re using their voice to make a change, make a difference, or be heard, was really empowering to me.”

Willoughby was moved by the sense of solidarity she felt at the march, and by the sheer quantity of individuals who stood with her in recognizing the racial injustices that people of color undergo on a daily basis.

“Having that understanding...that these are people – thousands of people – around me that understand what’s happening, and understand that these things don’t just pertain to one person or one group, that it’s an entire human issue, is a great understanding or a great feeling to have because you feel that you have a group that’s supporting you instead of you just supporting yourself,” she said.

Willoughby added, “If a thousand people know it’s wrong, then that means those thousand people [will] create two thousand, and three thousand, and it can spread, and spread, and spread, and hopefully we can change something.”

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