Juneteenth march planned for Niles

NILES — Organizers hope a march planned for Friday evening will be just the beginning in a local movement, and help make way to continue meaningful conversations leading to change.

The march is slated to begin gathering participants at 5:30 p.m. on Friday at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, at 601 Ferry St., for participants to receive march instructions. The peaceful march will begin at 6 p.m. and proceed west on Main Street to Second Street, and then will head north to the Niles City Building.

On Tuesday, Pastor Bryant Bacon of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Bishop Carlton Burrel of New Vision Apostolic Church, Pastor Raymond Massey of New Beginnings Church and Lawana Wortham, wife of Minister Mark Wortham of Bethlehem Church in Niles, met to discuss the national movement the City of Niles Juneteenth Peace March looks to be a part of.

“Demonstration will lead to legislation, real legislation,” Burrel said. “Then that will lead to reconciliation. There’s a purpose in demonstration because there has to be some legislative change done in order to get equality. We’re a part of that movement. It’s a great movement. All people are a part of it that will realize that this is more than 400 years past due. We came out of slavery with nothing.”

The date of the march, June 19, is a holiday known as Juneteenth. This date serves to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. The Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people in the U.S. was signed in 1862. The first African slaves were brought to the English colonies in North America in 1619.

“When I was watching TV and seeing everything that’s going on, it’s frustrating,” Wortham said. “In this city of Niles that I’ve grown up in, we need to do something. We need to stand to let people know that we see it. Sometimes, we sit back in silence. When we sit back in silence people think that we’re ok with what’s going on.”

She reached out to Bacon and began the discussion of organizing the peaceful march. They worked to bring the pastors and community leaders together. For Wortham, she wanted to start with prayer.

“Prayer changes things,” she said.

From there, Bacon and Wortham gathered others to collaborate with.

“She brought it to my attention. We wanted to see what we could put together here,” Bacon said. “We knew there were marches going on in the area, and we wanted to make sure we weren’t just copycatting marches, but that we could have something that once the city went through with it, we would have some plans moving forwarded. It started with her and ended with us moving forward.”

All four referenced systemic issues within the Niles community, including representation in the police force, city government, in the school systems, and in community interactions with the law.

“Niles will be a better city with diversity,” Burrel said. “They only have two African Americans that are employed in city government. The law enforcement gave us the problems they’re having recruiting African American officers, but there’s zero African American officers in [local] law enforcement.”

Wortham said lack of representation in government, law enforcement, schools and in business ownership made it difficult for students to aspire to these positions.

The organizers hope to see this march as a beginning to a local movement of change in the Niles community. The march has been assembled by local organizers, and is not a part of a larger organization.

“This is not a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. This is a march for black lives, because they do matter,” Bacon said. “It’s a Niles community march to show that black lives matter. It is not put on by Black Lives Matter.”

Massey hoped that the community movement would help bring equality.

“Now is our time to bring light to this particular thing,” Massey said. “We’re not trying to say that those other lives don’t matter, they matter just as much as ours do. This is our season.”