Dowagiac hosts Black Lives Matter rally, march

DOWAGIAC — Despite Saturday’s heat, Dowagiac residents filled the lawn of the James E. Snow building across from city hall. Some wore T-shirts bearing the message “Black Lives Matter,” while others carried with them signs saying “defund police brutality,” “please, I can’t breathe,’ or a simple “8:46.”

In front of the crowd stood Dowagiac resident Tyree Blackamore, who organized the event.

“My life matters,” he said into a megaphone. “Your life matters. Black lives matter.”

Saturday, Dowagiac hosted a march and rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The event began at Walter Ward Park. From there, more than 100 protestors marched to the James E. Snow building downtown.

The rally joined the thousands of demonstrations worldwide that have been hosted the last several weeks following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, who was killed in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, held a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes.

During the rally, several community leaders addressed the crowd. The first up to the podium was Mayor Don Lyons.

“This is an extremely important moment in the history of race relations in the United States,” Lyons said, beginning his speech. “I’m pleased and proud to be a part of it, no matter how small.”

As the white leader of a majority white city, Lyons said it is up to white people to use their privilege to help solve the issue of racism and help their African American neighbors achieve equality.

“I hear that all together we can make a change. No,” he said. “You’re right back where you started from. You have somehow put this on the back of black people who had nothing to do with this. They were forced here against their will. They were enslaved they were brutalized, and they have no place at the table are white people. This is a white problem created by white people to create white privilege, and if this problem is going to be solved, it is going to be solved by white people. Don’t try to duck that responsibility. … We won’t change the world. We are a small community. What we do and say here will probably never resonate far beyond our city limits, but we can make Dowagiac a much better community, a more just community. We can make it a fairer community, but that all has to come from the white side of the conversation.”

Lyons’ speech was followed by Director of Public Safety Steve Grinnewald; Catrinka Johnson, pastor of Connor-Mayo AME church; Tracy Hatcher, pastor of Peace Temple Church of God; former Cass County Commissioner Minnie Warren; and Dowagiac graduate and current University of Michigan student DeYonte Sullivan.

Hatcher’s speech touched on how he has experienced racism during his life, and he called on Dowagiac residents to teach their children against racism, so that the next generation of African Americans would not have the same experiences he did.

“Racism is nothing you are born with. It’s taught,” he said. “If you don’t cause your young people to think different, t’s going to continue to be exactly the way it is. We need to teach our children not to judge based on the color of someone’s skin. You have to get to know them before you can make a judgment call. … Ninety percent of you don’t know what it is like to walk around as a black man. We are some of the most hated people in the world. For that to change, the mindset has to change. If you don’t think different, you’ll never do different.”

In her speech, Johnson called for unity within the community and for Dowagiac residents to come together as “one body” to fight for justice and equality.

“Unity starts with you being the community,” Johnson said. “We are here to say a change will start today. The change will start with you and with me.”

Following the event, the organizer, Tyree Blackamore, said the turnout was more than he could have expected. He added that he hoped the event could bring a tide of change and unity to Dowagiac.

“I think it went great. I’m very happy,” he said. “This is exactly what we want. We don’t want exclusion. We want to bring everyone together so that we are one body instead of many. I hope people leave with the notion that we are all one community. Our skin is just our skin, but we are all the same inside.”