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‘The Work Is Not Done’: Gabrielle Peterson ’16 on the Millions March


Published December 18, 2014

Gabrielle Peterson ’16 was among 141 Smithies who headed to New York City on Saturday, Dec. 13, to take part in the Millions March NYC.

The protest, which drew thousands to Washington Square Park, was one of numerous demonstrations staged across the country that day against police violence directed at African Americans. Smith faculty and alumnae also participated in the march.

Peterson, a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow at Smith, is a member of the Concerned Students of Color Committee and the Black Students’ Alliance. She was one of several students who worked on getting fellow Smithies to the Millions March. Earlier this month, members of the campus community held vigils and protests over the failure of grand juries to indict police officers in the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Here, Peterson offers her account of the protest in New York:

“The horizon leans forward/Offering you space to place new steps of change/
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
/You may have the courage/
To look up and out upon me/The
 rock, the river, the tree, your country.”

– Maya Angelou

The Millions March NYC was the culmination of a week of student-led public demonstrations at Smith, a semester of work to prioritize discussions of race in the campus community—and a centuries-long effort by people of color to claim their space in predominantly white institutions.

While the work is not done, on Saturday we were able to physically move forward with the knowledge of traditional and non-traditional students, faculty and staff who are committed to fighting social and institutional racism—as well as the thousands of people who participated in Millions Marches across the country.

As we boarded the bus on Saturday at 6 a.m., I couldn’t help but think about how a little more than a week after Associate Professor Ginetta Candelario initiated a die-in at Smith, more than 100 students from a variety of academic, racial/ethnic and social backgrounds had gathered to participate in the march.

We were prepared in multiple ways to participate, thanks to the donation of buses by President McCartney and Dean of the College Donna Lisker; logistics and purchasing help from Director of Student Engagement Tamra Bates; encouragement and emergency items from residence life staff; preparation of food items by dining services staff; kind words of encouragement and snacks from Dean of Religious Life Jennifer Walters; and the extensive planning done by student organizers Alyssa Flores ’16, Freda Raitelu AC, Raven Gomez ’17J, Ariana Quinones ’16, Dulce Mora Flores AC, alumna Tachrina Ahmed, Beverly Floyd AC, Josey Lee ’15, Rebecca Mena ’15 and Cameah Wood ’15.

These are a few of the many people who deserve gratitude and recognition for their compassion and support in getting us to and from the Millions March safely.

The march began in Washington Square Park, traveled up Fifth and Sixth Avenues, turned onto Broadway and continued to Lafayette Street. When we arrived at the park, Jess, one of the march organizers, stood on top of a stone. She was dressed all in black, save for an orange pinnie, and told us to remember that we were there because “black lives matter.” She urged us to enjoy the march and to be safe. She gave us the number for the NYC Lawyer’s Guild and a number where we could get live message alerts.

Jess was surrounded by a host of college students, children and adults. The crowd grew by the minute until a large mass of people of all ages started to walk towards the large arch at the end of the park.

New York City police officers blocked off streets while march organizers in orange pinnies directed us along the route. Marchers of all ages and genders led chants, songs and dances, and drummers created a nice tempo to walk to. Along the route, onlookers cheered from inside businesses, and some schools and organizations posted large signs of support in their windows.

Among the awesome posters was one carried in pieces by a group of eight or more. When placed in order, the pieces depicted Eric Garner’s eyes.

We were part of a crowd that represented people of different professions—including doctors, nurses, celebrities, students, teachers, scholars, social workers—as well as different ages and races. Despite our differences, a series of collaborations helped us participate in a peaceful demonstration of public disdain for the injustices that preceded and are inscribed in these current events.

As I looked around, it resonated that I was standing amongst a group of people who are dedicated to redress the systems that justified the criminalization and murder of black fathers, sons, mothers, daughters and sisters. I left New York in awe of the people from the Smith community who helped make this event possible and with a greater appreciation for those who have committed their time to fighting racial injustice.

When we return next semester, I look forward to collaborating again in thoughtful and restorative programming with members of various student organizations and others on campus to share our experiences with the many who could not make it to the march.

—Gabrielle Peterson