More than 50 people gathered on Sunday for a unity rally at the Ellwood City Community Plaza to show support for Black Lives Matter.
“I don’t know anything about politics, really. I felt in my heart that it was wrong that Ellwood City was being quiet on an issue that is sweeping the whole nation as well as the world,” said Mary Maine, a borough resident and event organizer. “I don’t think it’s OK for them (local politicians) to be quiet.”
Protests and marches sparking discussions about race and police brutality have been occurring around the country in response to the death George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes.
When Maine saw what she said was a lack of borough officials attend a smaller rally in front of the municipal building earlier this month, she confronted the borough council at its next meeting.
“Go out. Say your voice and then go back and make sure they (council) are listening to you,” Maine said at the rally.
“You go in there and they don’t even want to listen sometimes.”
Maine did commend two council members — Caleb Cragle and Michele Lamenza — who were in attendance, but said attendees should take a stand so the other members would listen to their message.
Because he was physically unable to attend, a letter from Mayor Anthony Court was read aloud.
Speakers such as Angela Valvano, vice chair of the Lawrence County Democratic Committee; Kolbe Cole, Democratic candidate for state representative in the 10th District; Julian Taylor, co-founder of the Pennsylvania Progressive Veterans; Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker; and Monica Razo, president of New Castle NAACP, took turns speaking to the crowd about race and the “marathon” they were all a part of to enact social and legislative change.
“This is a two-fold battle,” Valvano said. “It’s the battle for hearts, and it’s a legislative battle.”
She encouraged attendees to have “nuanced” conversations with people in their lives.
“It is better to mess up and say something stupid than it is to not say anything at all,” she continued.
“You must keep everything peaceful because as soon as you do one thing, that diminishes the whole thing,” Taylor said.
“We don’t have the luxury of making one mistake.”
“The mission is bigger than an individual grudge,” he continued.
Taylor told attendees to ask their local councils to pass “8 Can’t Wait,” which is a project that claims to reduce police violence by 72 percent by instituting eight changes in policy, including banning chokeholds, requiring a warning before shooting, banning shooting at moving vehicles and requiring comprehensive reporting.
After speeches concluded, the crowd marched from the plaza to the Fifth Street bridge, holding signs and chanting.
Some other political figures and elected officials in attendance were borough manager David Allen, Ellwood City Area School Director Barbara Wilson and Paul Stefano, chairman of the Lawrence County Democratic Committee.
All participants in attendance — including children — were wearing face masks.
Rumors on social media about the possibility of counterprotesters proved to be unfounded.
A table to complete voter registration and another for the NAACP were set up for participants.