October 28, 2021

Supporters of Black Lives Matter march in Cortland

‘We have to show that we care’

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

The Rev. Gary Smith, a racial justice coordinator for the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ and associate pastor of the Homer Congregational Church, speaks Tuesday afternoon as part of a Black Lives Matter protest and march at Grace and Holy Spirit Church on Court Street in Cortland.

What was originally expected to be a group of about 10 people congregating Tuesday afternoon in front of Grace and Holy Spirit Church with Black Lives Matter signs turned into 50 people arching around the corner, speaking on the issue, singing and praying together. The majority of protesters were white and that mattered, said Caleb Wright, a speaker at the protest, whose parents are pastors at the God’s Lighthouse of Praise church on Port Watson Street in Cortland.


Homer march

When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Durkee Park to the Homer Village Green
Organized by: Central New York Black Lives Matter group

“I just want to thank you for the way you’re using your voice and your platform to speak out for the community,” he said.

The Rev. Pete Williams, who organized the protest, said he was surprised by the number of supporters.

“This is waking all of us up right now,” he said. “We have to show that we care.”

The protest comes a day after 300 people demonstrated in Courthouse Park against police brutality following the death of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died May 25 at the hands of police after pleading with an officer who had a knee on his back and neck that he couldn’t breathe.

S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Protesters during a Black Live Matter rally Tuesday at Grace and Holy Spirit Church on Court Street in Cortland talk before marching around the block, hearing speakers, singing songs and saying a prayer.

“Never again should we ever hear another human being say ‘I can’t breathe,’” especially if they are a person of color,” said Rev. Gary Smith. We are in the midst of a pandemic that causes us to wear these masks, but we have a second pandemic in the United States, it’s called Covid-1619. That is when the first slaves were taken from their homes and brought here against their will to build and shape the country that we whites have the privilege of owning and possessing after we took it from the indigenous people that live here.”

Smith, a racial justice coordinator for the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ and associate pastor at the Homer Congregational Church, challenged people to learn the history of African American people and racism that isn’t written in the textbooks.

That is exactly what Molly Andrejko said she was doing for herself, to be able to discuss with her sons Sam, 5, and Dell, 6. She said it was important that they show up and take action.

“They have some understanding about it,” she said. “They know who George Floyd is. I’m doing my best to learn how to talk about it with my kids.”

She said that comes from educating herself first and making sure “they’re part of the learning and action.”