Black Lives Matter Byram Continues Call for Social Change

“More than 100 people continued the call for equality during the latest Black Lives Matter rally Saturday at CO Johnson Park in Byram.

Dubbed “Black Lives Matter Byram,” Saturday’s rally was organized by a group of Lenape Valley Regional High School graduates called Patriots Alumni for Social Action, and featured roughly a dozen speakers.”

The event carried momentum from similar local rallies over the past month in Newton, Sparta, Vernon and Jefferson, with attendees advocating on behalf of members of the Black community who have died at the hands of law enforcement.

The rally took on an added measure of local significance this week after a Byram police officer was suspended for a social media post that allegedly disparaged the recent Black Lives Matter protests. While specifics of the post have not been made public, Newton resident Scott Paul commended the department for taking “swift action” Saturday and stressed that the group does not harbor an anti-police agenda.

“All we want is empathy and compassion from the people that are sworn to protect and serve us. That’s really all we want,” Paul said. “We don’t expect everybody to be perfect. We know that there are always going to be bad apples. It’s just, we have a system that allows the bad apples to be bad with no repercussion unless there is video footage, and those are the things that we need to change.”

Paul also referenced a conversation he had prior to the rally with about 10 counter-protesters in the park who told him that all lives matter. In response, he explained to the crowd that the term “Black Lives Matter” is used when Black people feel “powerless” and is not meant to convey any kind of superiority.

“We don’t believe that Black lives matter more than anybody else. That’s not why we’re here,” Paul said. “We say Black lives matter because over and over and over again, we’ve been made to believe that our lives do not matter as much.”

Sam Gill, a 2020 graduate of Gill St. Bernard’s School, told those gathered about her own experiences with racism, including being called a racial slur by a white girl and having classmates trying to take off her head covering as she walked down the school hallway.

“This isn’t just a Black problem, but a problem that has to deal with every person in America and even across the world,” Lowe said. “So educate yourself, black or white, and realize that change begins within you. Realize the wrongdoings of the past and go into society demanding change. Together, we have the power to dismantle these racist systems and ensure that our children and their children do not have to experience the harm and injustice of racism.”

Many of the speakers said they were proud about the large turnout — despite threats of storms and steady rain toward the end of the rally — particularly in a town and a county that is predominantly white. 

Temi Akanbi, a Mount Olive resident, spoke about the importance of continuing the dialogue once a rally ends in order to advance the notion of racial equality. The struggle is one that has gone on for a long time, she said, but events like Black Lives Matter Byram give her hope that society is moving closer to achieving the group’s goal.

“We inherited this fight from our parents and our grandparents, who were unsure when the day that they could say all of this ended will come,” Akanbi said. “But for us, in this generation — to our children, our nieces, our nephews, our grandchildren — we’ll be able to give them a date of when we can unequivocally say that we won this fight.”

source: NJ Herald,