Peaceful protest: Silvertonians inspired to take action against racism

June 2020 Posted in Community, News

By Melissa Wagoner

“I come to report — the kids are not alright,” Keith Amano gravely stated at the George Floyd Memorial Protest in Silverton on Friday, June 5.

As the Activities Director for the Immanuel Lutheran Church, Amano has spent years getting to know the youth in Silverton — all of them, every color, race, ethnicity and gender.

“I have had all kinds of kids, he asserted. “And all of them have to find their place in this town and in this world. And it is on their behalf that I am angry. I come to report, the kids are not alright… They can’t think, they can’t rest — they can’t breathe because of what is happening.”

For this reason, Amano — who kicked off the protest by sharing his own story of life as a Japanese American — urged the community to listen.

“We want to listen to their stories,” he said. “We want to let them breathe…If you say, ‘don’t talk,’ they can’t breathe. If they can’t breathe you are taking away their spirit, their breath, their life.”

With that request in mind, hundreds of Silvertonians — masked against the coronavirus pandemic and brandishing hand-made signs — listened, raptly as one after another, speakers took to the microphone to tell their stories.

“I am in no way seeking pity,” 16-year-old Orianna Farrell said by way of introduction. “I am seeking that you, in the community, stand with me to make a change.”

Farrell’s story — which she published in a recent Instagram post titled, “My life in Silverton as a black woman” — lists the countless ways in which the color of her skin has been used as a barrier to separate her from the rest of the predominantly white community into which she was born.

“In fourth grade, I remember, I was made fun of for my curly hair,” she wrote. “My hair was seen as a distraction to my classmates and teachers. I was not seen as beautiful because I didn’t have silky, straight hair.”

That post — which she read aloud to protesters — cites incidences from fifth grade, ninth grade and tenth grade, each escalating in severity, all taking place within a school.

“First and foremost, our school needs to change,” Farrell stated in an interview prior to the protest. “We need to stop being afraid to teach our students that what they’re doing is wrong. The curriculum needs to change. Mandatory English books that you read are all about colored people from a place of oppression, never a place of power. Knowledge is power. I would like to see people educating themselves for themselves and for people of color.”

And the best way to begin, Farrell noted, is to start listening.

“I want you to listen with an open mind and I want you to get something from what I’m trying to say,” she said. “I’m exposing and making myself vulnerable so that maybe one part of you can find yourself more experienced about what other people are feeling and experiencing around this nation. One step is all it takes. I want somebody to feel. I want somebody to know the pain. I want somebody to feel the change in their heart and their body and feel the passion that other activists feel when they talk about the subject of people being killed. It’s people’s lives on the line. I want people to feel. I want people to ask questions — to feel it. I want to start that fire.”

And she was by no means alone. Joined by fellow SHS students, Sam Perez and Eveline Morales Sierra, the group stood together, inciting action within their community.

“I have been called racist slurs and constantly been told to go back to my country,” Morales Sierra confided. Adding, “We must hold our neighbors accountable. These prejudiced systems have taken too many lives. Enough is enough. If people of color are strong enough to build a country, we are also powerful enough to change it.”

“Silverton, Oregon is a place of privilege with a lack of compassion for people of minorities,” Perez continued. “Kids shouldn’t be scared to go to their school because of the color of their skin. We need to speak out for these injustices.”

While this particular protest, organized by the Silverton Youth movement — a group of students seeking to inspire activism and change within their community — was held in solidarity with the national Black Lives Matter movement, it really sought to encompass racism as a whole — and specifically in Silverton.

“Many of us, we live in a predominantly white town and we don’t realize that our neighbors are experiencing such a different experience than we are just living a mile away,” Silverton Youth Movement founder, Orion White, said. “Everyone should feel welcome in this town — as welcome as I do.”

These sentiments were echoed by Mayor Kyle Palmer who, in his closing address, urged the community to take action.

“Hiding from what is uncomfortable is part of the problem,” he acknowledged. “That blindness is part of the problem. There’s still work to be done… This is a fight that each of us has to take on individually but that we can only win together. Let the flame that was ignited today be just the spark for Silverton.”

 

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