MAY 25, 2022
Breathless, the liberated curls I’m still learning how to take care of frizzing in the heat, I arrive at Spring Garden Road, just between the entrance to the Public Gardens and Victoria Park. My heart pounds from the exertion, but also from the fact that I’m here at last, doing what my father wanted to do in his final days.
I’m fifteen minutes late—two years and fifteen minutes—having missed the time for racial solitude, to sit and memorialize not just the loss of a life that’s brought us here today, but all the losses before and after, and the crowd is growing by the minute. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. A sea of Black and Brown faces. Other faces, too. Every colour, every ethnicity. But it’s the Black and Brown that strike me. More than I’ve ever seen congregated in the city, more than I knew existed. The streets are blocked off, with only police cruisers anywhere in sight on the road ahead. I push myself toward the front of the massive crowd, knowing that’s where Jasmine will be, but with her nowhere in sight, I pull out my phone. Before I have a chance to dial, a hand lands on my shoulder. I’m spun and embraced. I step back to the sight of her in a T-shirt displaying a fist similar to the ones in her text.
“You better?” Jasmine looks at me, head cocked to the side, hands on my shoulders.
When I nod, fighting to conceal the fear and uncertainty welling within me, she nods back, then grabs my hand, drawing us through the crush of bodies. Before we’ve reached the front, the march begins. Hands still clamped together, our arms raise in the air. Our voices, too, in unison, not just with each other, but with all the voices around us. Chanting words that are more than chants. More than a plea. A battle cry erupting through our throats: not just our voices, but the voices of our parents, our grandparents. Our grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents.
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.
As we pass one block, then another and another, and turn onto Barrington Street, the thrum in my chest syncing with the rhythm of our voices is like nothing I’ve ever felt. The whole experience like nothing I imagined. The tears. The joy. Connection. I thought I’d feel guilt—shame that this is my first time. I thought I’d feel like an imposter.
Instead, I feel known.
We turn into Grand Parade, where a stage, the type usually used for concerts, is set up. I’m uncertain if everyone will fit but, almost as if it’s been scripted, it’s the Black and Brown bodies that enter the space, the others waiting, allowing us room. As I move forward, Jasmine still beside me, all that fear that kept me away until now, the things I’d seen on television—rubber bullets, tear gas, barricades—and the things I knew of more intimately, seem a world away. There is none of it. Instead, peace. Camaraderie.
As we find a spot in the crowd, my gaze falls upon the officers lining the sides—there to ensure the protest remains peaceful—and the eyes of at least three of them hold what I dreaded: the desire to step out of line, to attack. These officers, one young, one old, one middle-aged, gaze at us as if they itch to pull out their clubs, bash them against us. See the blood flow.
Yet they stay still.
I tear my gaze away, telling myself I’m seeing things, that my mind’s recreating the look I imagined on the faces of three other officers. With the thrust of the crowd, I move forward, until they’re out of sight and—the people around me still chanting, singing, gyrating— almost out of mind.
A man steps onto the stage, others behind him. He comes to the centre, and a hush settles. The others, five on each side, flank out in a motion that feels choreographed, imitating the motion of birds in flight. The man takes a knee, and two by two, so do the others. So do we. A screen I’ve only just noticed blinks to life. A countdown. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
Sobs, choking breaths, stifled gasps fill the air, mixing with the distant whir of cars in the unblocked streets. My chest shakes, my eyes burn, as the minutes, then seconds, count down. Then we stand—all of us—refusing to be held down any longer, feeling empowered, feeling as if we’ve taken something back.
My throat is closing, pushing away that joy, that connection that existed just minutes ago. I came. I marched. But nothing tangible has changed.
The man on the stage speaks, though I only catch snippets—the way the city painted Black Lives Matter on the street without involving the Black community, how these decisions need to be in our hands. How words are great, but action, systemic change, is what’s needed. I try to focus, but the thought that nothing tangible has changed pulsates, drowning out his words. And then the question: Will it ever?