Chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” and “We Stand With You,” an estimated 200 to 300 protesters peacefully marched through the streets of Hamburg for the George Floyd/BLM Unity March on June 12.
“I hope those in Hamburg are able to open their minds and hearts to listen to our voices. We live here. We are a part of their community. I want peace and unity to happen, and I believe those are needed to push forward and get the change we need for this country,” said organizer Esmeralda Klahr, of Hamburg.
Klahr has lived in Hamburg her entire life, “This is my home.”
She graduated from Hamburg Area High School and now works in Hamburg.
“Hamburg is a small town where racism is alive and well. I believe this town needs to accept the negatives and work to abolish the racism,” said Klahr.
At 4 p.m., protestors met at the State Street Trail Head. Wearing face masks, the crowd included all ages and ethnicity, including children, as well as a few dogs. Many held “Black Lives Matter” signs as well as other messages aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement.
With police on bicycles and ATVs patrolling alongside the marchers, the group walked up State Street to Third Street, then along Washington Street where they stopped for speeches at a grassy area.
“The George Floyd/BLM Unity March entails speakers who believe in the Black Lives Matter movement, who include friends and pastors,” said Klahr.
Hamburg resident Angela Williams, a mother of four, opened with a prepared speech, “I can’t breathe. I can’t move. Mama… Please, I can’t breathe.”
“Those were his words, literally,” said Williams, referring to George Floyd. “We are tired, tired of all of the deaths. Tired of all of the unfair treatment. Tired of the division. I say ‘we’ because with the knowledge of self that I possess I know that there is only us. Not us and them, but only us. Only we. Not only blacks. Other heritages are included, period.”
The only real change comes from inside, she said.
“George Floyd is one of many black lives taken throughout the centuries. Did you hear me say centuries? Not just now, centuries. Because of how someone thought they should feel about another person. What makes a person hate or dislike another just because of the color of their skin is different?”
Williams told the crowd that Black History is our history because it relates to every single one of us.
“We are all broken, period. Everyone is broken, all of us,” said Williams. “I just want to say, God is love and let’s heal us because the people unite.”
Dominique Washington of Philadelphia, poet, said, “It does my heart good to see so many people support why we’re here. We all know change is not quick and drastic but the fact that you guys are here is the beginning of that change. This means a lot.”
Washington shared his poetry, “My head hangs low while my heart is heavy... We’re demanding change… You love black culture but hate black people. How many are going to be killed in this fight for freedom… The wrong move… and I become the next hashtag… I just want to talk but you won’t listen…”
“Until things change, we will not stop, we will not rest…”
Rev. Jason Stump from Schuylkill County also spoke, “No matter what your faith, no matter what your beliefs, we’re all here because we share a lot in common. So let’s just make this a sacred time in whatever your beliefs are and let’s pray with our eyes open today and our ears as well.”
“Jesus calls for us to fight for the oppressed, to reach out to the marginalized, to feed the hungry, to care for the poor, to have compassion…” Stump said.
Stump told the crowd not to ignore what still goes on and to plan and organize and vote.
“I know God loves all people. Whatever you call God, you feel that love,” said Stump. “Keep that faith, keep the love.”
Hamburg Police Chief Anthony Kuklinski spoke briefly to the crowd, noting that Klahr kept in contact with him throughout the planning processs, “She’s very passionate about what she thought was right and I have to commend her that.”
“We were here for you guys, 100 percent,” said the Chief.
Klahr said that while she was the Unity March organizer, she is not the person to focus on today.
“Today’s focus is on everyone who is persecuted by injustice,” said Klahr. “While we all marched, I chose to walk behind you. Some say that was stupid. I say it was smart because I heard ‘All Lives Matter,’ but if that were true, we would not be here today.”
“Today, I want you all to feel my anger,” she continued.
“Today we are family. Today the officers who showed up are family. Believe it or not but we must hold these people accountable and we must hold ourselves accountable. We cannot change and expect change without changing ourselves!”
Education is only the beginning. The next step is to reform our civil rights, which should include being free from racial and sexual injustice, she said.
“Become better parents for your children… Become better people for your neighbors. Love them as you love yourself. We are equal and if we expect to live in a land of equality as one of our rights, then I will keep standing until that is accurate,” said Klahr. “Let’s shout until every single person in this town and a mile away can hear us!”
“Black Lives Matter,” the crowd chanting loudly in response.
A number of Hamburg residents showed their support via the event Facebook page, those who attended and those who supported the Unity March from a distance.
“The majority of responses have been positive, however, I did get backlash that includes threats,” said Klahr prior to the event.
Prior to the march, signs in opposition to the protest – claiming the protestors were not going to be acting peacefully – were posted around Hamburg Borough.
Hamburg Borough posted in response via social media, “To everyone involved in this event. The Hamburg Police were made aware of this situation early this morning. We immediately sent out an officer to collect these signs which were placed in random locations around the borough. We have also been responding to calls for service, some regarding the signs and again removed any signs citizens discovered. Since then we have been immersed in conducting an investigation into the signs. A suspect has since been identified and arrest is imminent. Be assured that the Hamburg Police are committed to having this event go smoothly and without incident.”