CHS Students Lead Black Lives Matter Protest

CHS+Students+Lead+Black+Lives+Matter+Protest

Ohr Gutman and Asaka Park

On June 14, 2020, Cresskill held its first Black Lives Matter protest at the field in front of the fire department. Its key organizers consisted predominantly of high school and college students, including Jada and Victor J. Urbaez, Ashley Allen, and Jasmine Rivera. Participants were staggered to maintain proper distance in accordance with the ongoing COVID-19 situation. 1,322 people showed in solidarity, including Cresskill students, parents, and several representatives from the high school administration. According to Jada, Cresskill Mayor Benedict Romeo was invited to attend, but did not provide a response. The protest followed its route down Madison Avenue, across Union Avenue, to and around the police department, and back. Barricades were set up to protect the outside borders of the route. Some police officers were stationed along the way. Victor J. Urbaez and others could be heard leading a majority of the chants with megaphones. 

A sequence of speeches was delivered upon the crowd’s return to the fire department. Speakers included Victor J. Urbaez, Sophie Secor, Chloe Min, Ainsworth Minott, Jada Urbaez, Tobi Zypman, Nasir Hannah, James Erwin, Reggie Buggs, and Victor Urbaez. The protest began at 5PM and continued past 7:30PM—the speeches kept most captivated at the field. It went beyond the scheduled speakers and became something like an open-mic. Citizens with something to say were given the chance to stand on the bleachers and speak their minds in support of the movement and in efforts to stir the community. 

Cresskill senior Jada Urbaez talked about her own experiences with racial microaggressions. She recalled having difficulty finding houses when she was moving because some realtors were reluctant to work with her family. This wasn’t a one-time incident: Jada says that her parents are often not taken seriously, despite both of them being lawyers. Furthermore, Jada recounted going on a basketball field trip to a predominantly Black town, where her peers began to joke about “gangs” and shootings. She feels that Cresskill High School has been inadequate in dealing with racial incidents, as well as teaching Black history.

“The teachers do nothing about it. Nothing,” she stated in her speech.

The lightbulb went off on June 10th, a Wednesday night. Jada, her brother Victor, Ashley Allen (another senior), and Jasmine Rivera (a friend) came up with the idea.

“We had four full days to plan everything and get everything ready. What we did to promote was create flyers to share on social media and we printed hundreds and stapled them around Cresskill and countless other surrounding towns. From Haworth to Englewood,” Jada recalled.

They also spread the word at other protests they attended.

When asked about the change she hopes to see in the Cresskill community, Jada said that the school needs to be more proactive. She repeatedly emphasized that her criticism of her school comes from faith, rather than hatred. She believes that things can get better.

“When I say that changes need to be made, that does not necessarily mean bashing the school because I love the school. I’m a proud Cresskill High school senior; I love my school. But everybody needs to be better. Everybody needs to do better themselves,” she reiterated. 

Chloe Min, also a senior, gave a speech on Black and Asian solidarity. Chloe began her speech with an acknowledgement of her privilege—one that her immigrant parents have worked hard to give her: “I want to address one thing from the start and who I am. I am an East Asian living in Cresskill, New Jersey. And by that definition I have privilege in this town,” she said. Chloe emphasized the importance of advocating for Black people. “You would think that as a minority […] we would want others to help us during that time. Correct? If you are down, if I am down, if every single one of you are down, you would want people to stand up and speak to you. So when Black Americans have been screaming for our help for 400 years where was the help then?”

Chloe’s speech struck a relevant chord, in a majority-white and Asian school. “I’ve heard many students at Cresskill freely use the n-word and everyone seems to just ignore it, and for me personally it’s frustrating to see the Asian community, as a fellow target of racism, not stand up and say something,” she said. She referred to the model minority myth, explaining that Asian communities are often pitted against the Black community, hustling to maintain their status as the “better minority.” (A more detailed explanation of race relations can be found in this reading list compiled by Chloe’s sister, Isabella Min). 

Protestors were encouraged to sign a petition for Cresskill High School to take action. It would urge the administration to incorporate race into the curriculum at each grade level, better equip teachers to talk about race, and diversify the staff. 

Follow @blmcresskill on Instagram if interested in knowing about upcoming events. Activists in Cresskill’s youth are coming out strong in support of the movement and are pushing concrete change; these are leaders in our community and future leaders of society.