A crowd marched down Main Street, shouting “Black Lives Matter” at the Kutztown Area Solidarity March at noon on Sunday, June 7.
With their voices echoing up and down the street, the mixed crowd of ages and ethnicity shouted “Justice Now,” “Don’t Shoot,” “George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Joni Klopp and her friends were the grass roots organizers. Peace.Love.Kutztown and Kutztown Community Partnership provided support.
The march was held to mark the start of the Kutztown Solidarity Movement to take a “stand for solidarity, racial justice and to elevate black voices, right here in our community. We all know Kutztown is an incredible place to learn, to work, to live and for some to thrive, but by being here today, we all agree that we have work to do…” Klopp said prior to introducing speakers that stood on a wooden platform set up in the center of Main Street.
“Today is the day we begin to bring meaningful change to our community. Today is a day to educate, to learn, and for some, just to listen and process. Today should feel uncomfortable. Today should not be easy, but neither is the work we’re trying to accomplish in Kutztown.”
Pastor Earl Wise of The Real Church provided remarks and a prayer.
Wise led the crowd in chanting back to him, “I can hear you. I can see you. Black Lives Matter!”
“That’s what Black Lives Matter is about. It’s about recognizing that you hear us and see us at the injustices that are happening are just not acceptable. So we come together as black people, as white people, as light skinned, as dark skinned, as men and women. We come together to say that I see you and I hear you and these injustices will not happen anymore. We can do this and can do this together and we can do this peacefully. I’m so proud of all of you for coming out today.”
Wise called for applause for coming together peacefully.
“This is not just a racial issue. This is a character and a heart issue and this is a love issue,” said Wise. “Let’s not be mistaken on what this is about. Color is involved, but it is not the main thing. It is not black vs. white. It is not man vs. police… It is a community of heart and love issue so today let’s march peacefully. Let’s march together.”
Wise said the work starts after the march, telling the crowd not to spread hatred on social media. Instead, support one another and to come together as one people, as one heart with one voice.
“Love today, love tomorrow and continue to love. Years from now we’ll look back and we’ll see true change in this country and in this world but it starts with all of us doing it together with love,” said Wise.
Speakers included Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel, Fleetwood resident Christian Curet shared his poem “The Masks We Wear,” Kutzotwn High School junior Marlon Creech, City Cuts barber Jerry Jones, recent graduate from Kutztown University Carlis Lewis, KU assistant director of admissions Baron Vanderburg and KU Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Donavan McCargo.
Kutztown City Cuts barber Jerry Jones spoke from the heart instead of a prepared speech.
“I’m glad everybody’s out here to come together. This is beautiful,” said Jones. “I see so many faces, colors, sizes, kids, this is beautiful. This is why I moved to Kutztown … and I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Jones said he even has Kutztown tattooed on his arm.
“Walking up and down the street, the love is real,” he said. “We just want to keep that love going.”
Kutztown Mayor Jim Schlegel thanked everyone for joining in this peaceful show of solidarity.
“Kutztown is a community that knows how to work together to make change,” said Schlegel. “When I witnessed the death of George Floyd, I knew that was a breaking point, a wake-up call for our nation.”
Kutztown High School junior Marlon Creech said, “I think everyone is equal, no matter your skin color… Over 200 years of racism we’ve had to deal with. It has to change. George Floyd was a big wake-up call for the entire world. It’s time to change. We’re all equal.”
Carlis Lewis, who recently graduated with a marketing degree from Kutztown University, shared how he experienced institutional racism. He graduated from a high school in Southwest Philadelphia. “I was one of the good students. I loved learning and I love information… Black people used to be lynched for learning how to read and write but now what they do is they just miseducate us. They don’t fund us. They don’t give us textbooks.”
Lewis said his entire high school career, he only wrote two essays and never saw a textbook.
“We have to unify. It’s time,” said Lewis. “Knowledge is power, let’s educate ourselves… educate our youth.”
Donavan McCargo, KU Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students, asked the crowd to remove their hats and join him in a moment of silence for George Floyd.
“On May 25, we didn’t imagine by evening’s end that one life, Mr. George Floyd, would transcend into a national and global movement that would further magnify the challenges of one of the most powerful countries in the world. Because of Mr. Floyd, we should never be the same again.
“We should never sit back and see racism and injustice as normal. We should never allow our friends and co-workers to make offensive jokes again. We should never raise our children without telling the truth about black history again. We should never assume a black man or woman is less than another man or woman again. We should never again hate someone we don’t know or despise them because of the color of their skin again. On May 25, the earth shook.”
"From that day, hundreds of protests and marches have occurred, engaging millions of supporters of all walks of life. Through social media and TV, our country has been exposed to a harsh reality, that the lack of equality still remains a barrier…" said McCargo.
"Today, each of you took the first step. You showed up. By showing up, you send a message that what was can no longer be anymore. You’re telling the world that you want change, that Black Lives Matter. And we must do better. You being here will go down in history.”
Take a picture, write this date down and journal this experience, he said.
“Tell someone you were here. You are now part of history and remind them that Black Lives Matter,” said McCargo. “The steps you take after today can transform this nation.”
Those involved in the event included Kutztown Borough, Kutztown Community Partnership, Kuztown Borough Police Department, and Kutztown University, as well as individuals.
Peace.Love.Kutztown encourages the public to follow the Instagram @ktownsolidaritymovement for education on how to elevate black & POC voices in our community. The speeches were live streamed through Facebook and Instragram @peacelovekutztown. Follow #peacelovekutztown.
Posts shared via the Facebook #peacelovekutztown included photos from the event and messages.
Craig Koller posted, "The town square has seen many events in the history of Kutztown, but none like today. Here is Mayor Jim Schlegel giving the best speech of his life. I beg anyone who heard the speakers today (all wonderful and heartfelt) to reflect and do some soul searching. I know I am. We can be better. We must be better. #peacelovekutztown."
Arabel Elliott posted, "Today I walked with others to protest the systemic racism that permeates our country and the world. I will work to educate myself, and my children, to truly make that change. #blacklivesmatter#BANCHOKEHOLDS#peacelovekutztown"