Hundreds turn out for Black, Indigenous and people of colour at Penticton's Gyro Park Sunday

Crowds at anti-racism rally

Hundreds turned out for a peaceful and moving anti-racism rally in support of Black, Indigenous and all people of colour at Gyro Park on Sunday.

More than a dozen voices of colour spoke their truths about the racism they’ve faced because of the colour of their skin. Many urged everyone to be the change for a better tomorrow.

Protests have been taking place all over the world in support of Black Lives Matter after African American George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes while he cried ‘I can’t breathe.’

At the rally, Summerland mayor Toni Boot spoke about the racism she experienced growing up in Summerland as the only Black person in her school.

“I’m speaking not as the mayor but as a person of colour who grew up in Summerland. A lot of people have said this is all about the brutal murder of an African American, but this goes on a lot longer than that,” said Boot. “I am almost 60 years old and I have faced racism all of my life.”

“I was being targeted on the playground, knocked off the merry-go-round, not able to play with the other kids,” she said. Even today, her family has experienced racism in the justice and health system where people of colour are treated differently.

Dwayne, who supplied the music and sound for the rally, spoke about the importance of continuing to be the change long after this Sunday protest was over so his kids’ generation doesn’t have to experience racism like he has.

“When we send a child into school and they start to learn about colour, they are taught black is depression and anger. What does white signify? White signify the heavens and everything beautiful?” said Dwayne. “So there is a child there and we are teaching her everything black is bad and everything white is good, then what is she going to believe when she is 15?”

Dwayne then asked the crowd to take a knee and raise their fist in solidarity. Thirty seconds of silence was heard as the crowd kneeled with a fist raised in the air.

“The privilege that you have as white people is a voice and you need to use it for good,” said one young Black woman who spoke. “Don’t be afraid to make people feel uncomfortable. Because I’m tired of being uncomfortable everyday and I shouldn’t.”

Cecilia, one of the organizers of the rally who emceed the event, said when she came to Penticton from Honduras it was difficult to find her community. But Penticton did make her feel welcome.

“That’s not to say there isn’t racism here. We still need to fight systematic racism.”

She said she was heartened by the huge turnout.

“The people who are here today are the good guys. You recognize your privilege and want to do something about it, so we thank you,” said Cecilia.

An Indigenous woman shared her experiences of racism growing up.

“I went to the mall with my friends and the security guard stopped me because he assumed I had stole something. I was 10-years-old,” she said.  “I’ve been told I was not good enough, that I wouldn’t graduate high school but guess what, I did. I now have a hairdressing degree.”

Penticton resident Autumn Vickers organized the BIPOC (Black Indigenous and People of Colour) rally to spread awareness of racism in this country. 

“We want to educate our community on racism and how it's very real here in Canada and in Penticton,” said Vickers who is Indigenous.

Different Indigenous singers and drummers also performed, with many, young and old, taking to the stage to sing the Okanagan song.

Various members of the Penticton Indian Band spoke about the racism they have faced.

Clint George, a member of the PIB band council and also a well-known artist in the community, spoke about his hope to eradicate the “R word (racism).”

“We need to break the R word, that’s why we are here today,” said George. “As an artist, I see the world as a palette, as a painter, who sheds many colours on that palette. That is the world we are trying to bring together where our colours unite and create a beautiful picture for our children, for our grandchildren. I have a brother, he’s black. I have a daughter, she’s black. She’s beautiful.”

While the rally was intended to go for one hour, it went for nearly three hours, as children, youth, mothers and fathers took to the stage to share their experiences of racism or to express their support through song, poems and words. Everyone who took to the stage was met with support, cheers and kindness.

Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked that no gatherings be larger than 50 people. Even though more than 250 gathered at the park, the majority of people wore masks and respected distances.

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