After summer of Sussex County rallies, Black Lives Matter organizers look to the future

"I think, at minimum, it's really brought the conversation to the forefront to the point where we have to a have a conversation," he said. "This year, justice became more important to more people.”

After summer of Sussex County rallies, Black Lives Matter organizers look to the future
Kyle Morel
New Jersey Herald

The death of George Floyd, a Black man in the custody of Minneapolis Police in May, set off a worldwide movement featuring countless protests and conversations about racial inequalities in society.

The protests even made their way to Sussex County, where more than 93% of residents are white and less than 3% are Black, according to recent census data. In a two-month period from late spring to mid-summer, five county municipalities hosted rallies that continued calls for equality in the wake of Floyd's death.

While the nationwide demonstrations having died down in recent months, organizers and speakers at the Sussex County rallies are now focused on advancing the conversation for change.

"2020 is the perfect name for this year because we got to see things clearly for the first time," said Scott Paul, a Newton native who spoke at multiple rallies in the county.

Paul felt the COVID-19 pandemic likely played a role in the increased support, as he noticed more people growing frustrated and questioning the actions of government officials than ever before. The skepticism extended to the plight of Black Americans like Paul, who have long spoken out against perceived unjust treatment from police officers and in other aspects of society.

"I think, at minimum, it's really brought the conversation to the forefront to the point where we have to a have a conversation," he said. "This year, justice became more important to more people."

                                                                                                                                             "I never expected the intensity of the conversations and the tone that we saw initially to go on forever," he said. "Things don't always progress across a straight line." Deon Williams, a Newton resident who helped organize the town's rally, agreed that the passion locally has dipped since the summer. However, he also believed that the county's demonstrations were "a big eye-opener" for many residents and have made them more aware of societal inequalities.

"The overall sense I get is people are less willing to let things slide," Williams said. "There was always going to be some 'die down,' but I think people now are more quick to call others out for their wrongdoing. I hope this continues and I hope to find ways to further help to unite the community."

While the response to Black Lives Matter in Sussex County was largely positive, Paul alluded to the "ugliness" of some residents in the form of threats to him and friends. Williams, meanwhile, dealt with hostile messages on a Facebook event page prior to the Newton rally.

David Kain, the organizer of Byram's rally, also experienced some pushback from the community, but it did not dissuade him from fighting for change in his hometown.

"Plenty of old classmates that don't agree with Black Lives Matter discovered newfound animosity towards me, but it didn't matter," Kain said. "The movement that was and still is happening was real and carried far more weight than any hatred dished our way. I had no problem defending what I believed in because I truly believe in it." 


Paul referenced the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which had its share of detractors but ultimately helped advance the Black community.

"'Ugly' was a really big part of progress," he said. "This is part of the growing pains, trying to get people on board who want to be on board."

Joe Biden's victory over Donald Trump in the November presidential election yielded varying opinions on what the new leadership means for the Black equality movement. Williams said "time will tell" whether anything will change, while Kain called the president-elect's nomination "one of the worst possible things that could have happened."

To back up his claim, Kain cited the controversial 1994 crime bill Biden authored that contributed to mass incarceration in the United States, particularly in Black communities. He believes that because Biden is a Democrat, the public will not be as critical as they are of Trump or other Republican leaders.

"I'm under the assumption that people who claim that Biden is a savior for America are the same people who believed that a blacked-out square on Instagram was real activism," Kain said, a reference to the Blackout Tuesday movement on social media in June. 

For Burrell, who grew up in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, the outlook is promising despite its relatively slow pace. To further his point, the mayor referenced a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., which reads, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”