The June 3 “protest” in Granby center began as one resident’s heartfelt desire to manifest support for the black community. The original idea, a humble gathering of friends and like-minded community members, quickly burgeoned into an impassioned assemblage of over 400 people.
Social media certainly has its downfalls, but one of its obvious advantages is spreading the word. Thus, the message spread like wildfire that there would be a “peaceful gathering in support of the Black Lives Matter movement” in the center of Granby at 5 p.m. And despite a few instances of miscommunication and negativity, the overriding emotion that built around town was enthusiasm.
It became clear that a significant portion of Granby’s population had a desire to gather in order to speak out against systemic racism and communicate a desire for change.
Residents of Granby and their friends and neighbors from nearby towns—everyone dutifully wearing their masks—lined Routes. 10 and 202, Route. 20 and Hartford Avenue, fanning out from Granby center, carrying their homemade signs. While the mood at the beginning was quiet and somewhat tentative, as the crowd grew, so too did the energy.
The signs carried a variety of messages. A great many read simply Black Lives Matter, in support of the movement of the same name. Other messages included, “Acknowledge your white privilege,” “Silence is violence,” “Police history is racist history” and “Hate does not make America great.” A number of individuals penned signs to communicate their outrage regarding George Floyd’s death.
A variety of chants were picked up and repeated by the crowd. As rush hour traffic moved through the center, the great majority of cars and trucks honked in support, feeding the positive energy. Attendees describe a number of very special moments, such as a black Fed-Ex driver who got out of his van to yell his thanks to the crowd.
As captured in a wonderful collection of photographs by local photographer Amy Geigner, the crowd included many families with children of all ages. Geigner, who grew up in Granby, says she was “happily surprised” to see how large the gathering became, and she says that she found at times she became fairly emotional.
When the crowd began to disperse, there was an impromptu gathering of speakers in front of the gazebo. About 50 people gathered to listen to four young black men share their thoughts. They had been spontaneously convened by Granby Bearcats football coach Jamaieke King, who says, “I felt it was very important that our voices be heard.”
He was right—it was very important. Several people in attendance have said that listening to these men share their candid thoughts on how Granby can do better was the highlight of the evening.
In addition to King, the speakers included Noah Greer and the brothers Ben and David Eke, who all grew up in Granby, attended school here and are now in college. The young men each shared their thoughts on how our homogenous town can move forward from here, such as educating ourselves through reading and listening; holding others accountable for acts of racism and hate speech—even when subtle—and learning and teaching our children the “real” history of America, which is seldom taught in schools.
King, who lives in Windsor and has coached in Granby since 2017, says, “I love Granby and the families that I’ve gotten to know through coaching football. But I wasn’t sure what a protest in this town would look like. I found it was a very good showing, with a lot of support and passion.”
King feels the most important thing that white people can do right now is to reach out to the black people in their communities and have conversations. “Really listen to people who don’t look like you,” he says. “And implore your friends and family members to be more empathetic and open minded.”
Greer, who attends the University of Connecticut (and whose mother is the principal at Wells Road Intermediate School) says, “I’ll be honest. I was kind of shocked to learn that this protest was happening in Granby at all. But I’m really glad that the movement made it all the way out here. The racism in Granby is not obvious but unfortunately, it is prevalent.”
Asked what Granby can do now, Greer says, “We need people first to educate themselves and then to learn to think before they speak.” As far as long-term but achievable goals, Greer cites affordable housing as one of the most important changes Granby could make.
Granby resident Dan Bodman, who attended with his wife and two daughters, said it was “a no-brainer that Granby should march to support the black community.” As to why Bodman wanted to be there, he says, “As a white member of this insulated community, I was there to support and show solidarity for my black friends, and any other black members of the community who may be experiencing injustice.”
Bodman feels hopeful that we can build on the momentum created by the gathering. “We can’t get complacent now. I don’t want people to walk away from this and say, ‘O.K., I went to a protest. I’ve done my part.’ We all need to continue by getting educated. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research over the past few weeks that I’ve realized just how much I still have to learn.”
Shelley and Mark Douglas also attended the gathering with their four children, ages 2 to 15. Mark, who is black, was initially hesitant to attend, unsure about what to expect. But Shelley says that they were “pleasantly surprised at how many people seem to actually care about the movement. We hope this is the first of many steps that need to take place, here in Granby and around the nation.”
One of the most heartening elements of the gathering was the large showing of young people, both high school students and college students. They brought a wonderful energy and a real sense of hope.
Maya Douglas, a Granby High School freshman, says that she’d like to see the school system put more focus on equality and on teaching the history of race issues in our country. She feels that kids need explicit learning at an early age, with the understanding that it’s not as easy to educate people who already have racial bias.
Maya concludes, “I honestly think the protest was an amazing opportunity to come together as a community. Granby is not a very diverse town and I have experienced racism growing up here. But at that event I saw our community gathering as one, everyone standing together. It was an experience that I will never forget.”