When Janet Burns learned about a grassroots effort to stage the Langhorne Borough African American Historical Day in her town, she instantly knew she wanted to be a part of it.
The educational awareness day took shape in response to George Floyd’s death while in police custody on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the subsequent protests of racial injustice both in the United States and around the world;
Organizers said they hoped the August 15 event in the Mayors’ Playground off Cherry Street and Maple Avenue would encourage more black-owned businesses to move to town and get more black borough residents to participate in their local government.
Burns said she was all in. “I have been so frustrated,” she said. “I couldn’t stand by and do nothing anymore.”
The borough resident and her nephew Matthew, who was visiting from California, volunteered to help out at the event. “I want to show my support and try to help change the hearts and minds of some in the community,” Burns said.
An estimated 150 people from all walks of life made their way to the pocket park on the sunny, hot summer day to look for ways “to bring people to understand each other.”
The non-profit No More Pain, Inc. along with Lace’d Unisex Hair Salon and The PAAC (Perseverance Against All Circumstances), sponsored the event. It began with dozens of attendees marching around the multi-use recreational site. Many carried signs listing the names of victims in racially-charged killings.
The demonstrators then formed a circle around the basketball courts to stage a brief rally.
“You say it louder,” event organizer Morris Holland Derry III chanted to which the participants responded: “Black Lives Matter.”
The opening demonstration culminated with many of the participants moving to the nearby soccer field. There they knelt in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds to mark how long former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck following the black man’s arrest.
Chauvin’s actions were captured on a video that quickly went viral. It led to he and three other officers being charged with killing Floyd.
As the demonstrators knelt in silence, a disc jockey played thought-provoking music over a loudspeaker from the likes of Marvin Gaye. The music was mixed with recorded comments from former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I want you to know you matter,” Obama said. “I want you to live a life of joy. You have the power.”
Once the demonstration ended, participants spread throughout the park to check out information booths hosted by local churches, organizations and vendors as well as food trucks set up along Cherry Street. Several speakers took turns sharing their personal messages of inspiration and encouragement.
“I hope you carry what you did today with you for the rest of your lives,” said Brianna Herder, 19, a Neshaminy graduate and lifelong Langhorne area resident.
Now a sophomore journalism major at Penn State University, Brianna said her wish was for younger kids to learn some valuable lessons at the event.
“I hope everyone remembers the skin they are in is beautiful,” she said. “Continue to believe in what you believe and say it loudly.”
Several police officers from various departments in the area were on hand during the event. Langhorne Borough police Chief John Godzieba said there were no problems at the public event where everyone followed social distancing guidelines – and law enforcement was not expecting there to be any issues.
The officers mainly stayed near the park’s perimeter along Cherry Street while a few, including Godzieba, mingled with others in attendance.
“We all have differences but it is during an opportunity like this that we can talk with each other,” the chief said.
Organizers said they plan to make the awareness day an annual event and out of it they hope to create a diversity council.
“I would like to do that,” said Burns, the borough resident who volunteered at the event.
The organizers told attendees they relish how everyone came together in a peaceful way to help ease racial tensions.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said organizer Antoine Lovelace, owner of Lace’d Unisex Hair Salon. Lovelace also runs the PAAC organization.
“We love you guys,” Lovelace said. “God bless everyone.”
PHOTO: People from all walks of life joined together on August 15 during the Langhorne Borough African American Historical Day to kneel for eight minutes and 46 seconds to mark how long former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck before he died in May.