The idea of being asked to speak at a protest is significant. Most especially when the cause of the protest is the fact that Black lives can be ostracized, pissed on, bullied, abused and annihilated …
The idea of being asked to speak at a protest is significant. Most especially when the cause of the protest is the fact that Black lives can be ostracized, pissed on, bullied, abused and annihilated based on the transgression of simply being Black. To realize we live in a world where being Black or having a considerable amount of melanin in your skin is unofficially considered to be a crime and the punishment for that crime —death. People are just starting to open their eyes to this inhuman fact, but those who have had this experience already knew this. Yet, as I was told years ago by a lawyer when I first got a traffic ticket, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
I still wrestled with to speak or not to speak at the Black Lives Matter protest in Callicoon. I continued to make a couple more phone calls to friends and family trying to figure out if I was going to stand in front of a large group of people and give a speech. I wasn’t sure if in-between my words I’d cry my way through the pain of being the recipient of racism or empower myself and be angry at my abusers and how they were glorified in their hate.
When I spoke to my mother’s cousin and told her about the protest in Callicoon, she was astonished. “They have some nerve! They didn’t even like Black people or even want Black people in Callicoon. In the ‘70s when several Black families moved to Callicoon, people in the town and many from surrounding towns did all they could to chase those Black families out, and they have the nerve to have a Black Lives Matter protest in Callicoon?”
I myself wondered, since when did Black Lives Matter in Callicoon? In response, later that day a Black male friend answered that question, “Eight minutes of a recording of a Black man’s life being snuffed out of him while he was begging for his mama, that’s when.”
As my mother’s cousin continued speaking, I could literally feel her recounting those tough memories and visualize the mental footage in her head. “It wasn’t until 1979, when Job Corps came to the old St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary, that the people in the area became accepting of Black people in Callicoon. But then, it was just about money. When the people in the town approved for the Job Corps to come to Callicoon, even though there were only a few white students attending, and most of the students were predominantly Black, Puerto Rican, Cambodian, Dominican, it was okay. It was okay because this influx of minorities would bring money to the businesses in Callicoon, jobs for people in Sullivan County, as well as jobs for people living nearby in Pennsylvania. That’s when the people in the town and community started to get a little nicer to the Black people.”
In 1842, Callicoon was made a town by an act of the legislature. Between 1842 and 2020, I wonder, does anyone have any idea who the first Black life was in Callicoon?
As fate would have it, inspiration came and I would be one of the speakers at the first Black Lives Matter protest in Callicoon. I realized good, bad, or indifferent, I was meant to be amongst those who were determined to leave a mark in the history book of empowerment and change for a new day.
Sunday afternoon, as I drove into the town and parked my car near the bridge, I was surprised to see so many people with signs in their hands and virus protection masks on. It was one of the first times I saw a crowd of white people and I wasn’t scared. For me, a crowd is a crowd, a mob is a mob, a gang is a gang, and a clan is a clan, a group of men standing together is a group of men standing together, whether they are Black or white or any other race or nationality.
However, walking over the railroad tracks to Upper Main Street and seeing so many people with signs waiting for the day’s events to begin, was a moment of precedence.
Stay tuned for part three, coming soon.
Z.A. Kohola has worked as an educator in different capacities for more than twenty years. She is a creative artist and a writer of all genres. For her, the need for creative expression is like breathing air.