Friday, July 3, 2020

Peaceful protest inspires education and awareness on social justice

Organizers of the Windham Black Lives Matter
peaceful protest, Zach DeFosse and Celine Baker,
discuss the route of the protest march with
Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield at
Windham High School on June 25.
By Lorraine Glowczak

Over 100 area residents came out to participate in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest held in Windham on June 25, walking from the Windham High School to the Windham Public Safety Building along Route 202 and back with a 15- to 20-minute opportunity for expressions on social justice.

The event was organized by Zach DeFosse and Celine Baker, both 2017 WHS graduates. Their main goal was to educate and inspire awareness surrounding the current social justice concerns – and to do so without violence.

“Throughout the process of planning our protest, Zach and I agreed that our intention was to educate and bring awareness,” Baker said. “Neither Zach or I wanted any harm, destruction, or violence to come of our protest and thankfully everyone that attended helped us achieve that goal.”

DeFosse, who is concerned about social justice, was inspired to create this event after he attended the peaceful protest in Gorham.

“I was, and still am, deeply disturbed at the recent events happening in this country, especially after such a long history of racism that still exists today,” DeFosse said. “I had attended a peaceful protest in Gorham that went very smoothly, and I wanted something like that to take place in Windham as well. Since no one else seemed to be stepping up to do something here, I decided I would take it on myself. I reached out to Celine, who is an event planner, to help me make it actually happen.”

To make sure that the walk and protest would remain peaceful, they reached out to the Windham Police Department for assistance.

Looping the Windham PD into this peaceful protest was important to us because we wanted to ensure the safety of community members,” Baker said. “The Windham PD took this protest seriously and played a vital role in providing safety measures like blocking off the road, watching for vehicle vandalism, and crowd control if needed. Zach and I are very thankful for the cooperation that the Windham PD showed and their support in shedding light on a topic that demands attention.”

Windham Police Chief Kevin Schofield was instrumental in the collaboration and was also pleased with the event and the respect and honor the police department received before and during the walk.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of the event,” Schofield said. “It was very peaceful and a perfect example of a productive expression of people’s first amendment rights. The event organizers and many attendees thanked us for our work on and supporting the event. [Zack and Celine] communicated with us throughout the planning process, which was very helpful, specifically for our planning. We also communicated with them of our plans to support the event.”

Attendees had a moment to express their thoughts on social justice during the stopover at the Public Safety Building, which included laying on the ground for nine minutes in honor and memory of George Floyd.

DeFosse began with opening statements to include the following:

“It's important for people to realize that the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ does not mean that black lives are more important than other lives,” said DeFosse. “It simply means that in our society today, people of color are not treated as fairly and justly as white people; therefore, it is untrue and unfair to say that all lives matter until our actions show that black lives matter.” 

Others had a moment to express their thoughts including Portland author Abdi Nor Iftin who was invited to attend and speak at the event. He shared his story on social justice as an immigrant and then asked:

“Where do we start with social justice? We read, we write, we walk, we talk.”

Others who spoke, shared their own stories. The theme of their thoughts on social justice was stated best by Windham resident, Kyron Hobdy.

“Nobody is seeking special treatment; we all want to be treated the same.”

After the event in a recent interview, Schofield shared his thoughts on social justice and how the all officers are selected to honor it.

“I think many terms we are hearing recently have very different meaning to different people, thus it is important for everyone to listen objectively to one another with an open mind,” Schofield said. “The best answer I can give is to quote one of the speakers at the protest, ‘nobody is seeking special treatment, we all want to be treated the same.’ The hiring standards for LE officers are very high, the hiring process include physical agility testing, in-depth background investigations, psychological assessments, poly graph examinations. Also, after 18 weeks of training we put cadets through 14 weeks of field training before being cleared to work patrol. When hiring people, we look for candidates who demonstrated a level of community involvement, civic organizations, volunteer work and other experiences that indicate candidates are community service oriented. I feel our officers excel at this.” 

In this small community of Windham, many people from all walks of life are working to overcome the social justice issues we face today, using their first amendment rights in a proactive and productive way with the hope that one day equality will prevail.

“I think that it’s safe to say that Zach and I have grown up in a world that has faced and overcome many social issues,” Baker said. “As young adults we feel that it is imperative to use our voices now to foster a more accepting and inclusive community for the future. Personally, I wanted to show people of color in the Windham community that they are not alone. The day of the peaceful protest, I stood as an ally. I stood as a member of their community who wants to make sure they are not alone in the fight for racial equality. I stood to support, learn from, and love them.” <

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