The New Hope: Local Black Lives Matter Organizers
These four young women (plus one younger sister) were the moving force behind two crucial local social justice marches – one in Orangeville and one in Shelburne.
This past summer, as the moving force of two local Black Lives Matter marches, four young women gave the rest of us a lesson in activism, advocacy and getting things done. They organized quickly and effectively with posters and social media messages that, thanks to Covid, had to include detailed social distancing and masking guidelines.
The June 14 Shelburne event of 300-plus marchers was led by friends and retail co-workers Shyanne Wharton-Haines Ricci and Hailey McLarty, both 23. Each spoke to kick off the march and were joined afterwards at Shelburne Town Hall by Mayor Wade Mills, Deputy Mayor Steve Anderson and Jay Wagstaff, the site director of the Shelburne location of Compass Community Church.
The need for change is one Shyanne feels deeply, having experienced racism growing up as one of the only Black kids at her elementary school. “I was treated differently because of my skin colour – the N-word was painted on my school portable – and I wanted to organize the march to provide support for other kids who may feel the same way,” says Shyanne, who was also a member of Shelburne’s antiracism task force (see page 47). “I want to show that they aren’t alone. There are people out there who care and are trying to make a difference for them.”
Twenty minutes south in Orangeville, a similar wellspring of solidarity swelled the same day. More than 1,000 people joined (virtually and in person) a Black Lives Matter march starting in Alexandra Park. There, two sisters had leaned in after digesting the news coverage of the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Seanna and Makenna Thomas discussed with their parents the fact that such an event could happen to any one of them. Their mother, Patti, suggested a march as a way to refuse to be silent about anti-Black racism, and the girls ran with it. Chef Phil DeWar was the MC, and local community builder and photographer Jim Waddington lent support. And four-year-old Emma was keen to tag along with her sisters.
As members of an interracial family, each sister has experienced racism in a different way. Makenna, 14, describes being bullied for being very light skinned – too white to be Black and too Black to be white, as she puts it. Seanna, 20, feels she experienced more racism as a child than her sisters because of her darker complexion.
“Kids are so important in this movement because they’re the next generation teachers, business owners, lawyers and so on. In order to eliminate racism we must educate the younger generation and show them the truth. Only after that will we see more change and unity,” she says.
These are disturbing matters for such young shoulders to carry. But these young people already understand the actions they take can have lasting effects on our culture – and the lives of kids like little Emma, and many others they don’t even know.