The streets of Downtown Guelph roared Saturday with the sound of thousands calling for justice for Black lives in Guelph’s largest protest in decades and possibly ever.
Chants of “Black Lives Matter!” and ‘no justice, no peace, out with the racist police’ could be heard across the roads as an estimated 5,000 people of all colours, ages and genders marched at the Guelph Solidarity Protest to Support Black Lives Matter at City Hall on Saturday.
It was organized by the Guelph Black Heritage Society to show solidarity for the lives lost to police brutality and to speak against institutionalized racism and hatred in Guelph and around the world.
They packed Carden Street up to Wyndham Street then filled most of the top part of Wilson Street.
People were seen handing out free water, masks, hand sanitizer to protesters as cars honked, people looked on through building windows, stood over bridges, and came out of their businesses to witness this historical moment.
Many who wished to physically distance for safety concerns stood in the sidelines to show support.
“It floods my heart,” said Guelph Black Heritage Society board member Andrea Weekes. “I did not expect this many people to come out.”
Police officers were not present at the protest but stood in the sidelines to manage traffic as people peacefully protested.
And while organizers continually encouraged safety, it was difficult to social distance for the large crowd in a relatively confined space.
The protest began with a land acknowledgment by local activist Xico Tencatl Maher Lopez who also stated the importance of intertwined history between Black and Indigenous Peoples.
“Our people bled and died together in this country,” said Lopez as people cheered in support.
“I couldn’t stand here saying I care about Indigenous sovereignty without caring about Black sovereignty.”
Black speakers, musicians and spoken word artists shared their experiences of racism with the police as people cried held signs, kneeled, stood in a moment of silence and cried.
“We are literally and figuratively exhausted. We are exhausted from the fight,” said community leader Marva Wisdom.
“And you being in the numbers that you are, are the fuel that is igniting the fire. You are propelling in ways that we did now know. You are propelling us with the energy that we need.”
Weeks said the packed streets of Guelph during a pandemic shows that people are fed up.
“When I talk to my colleagues, when I talk to White people, they really did not understand. I think when they saw that police officer on that man with his knee, a light bulb went off,” said Weekes.
“Every single weekend I want people to protest. Protest peacefully and lets the government and the police officers know that we’re not going to take this anymore.”
Weekes said she and her family members have faced discrimination their whole life by frequently getting stopped by the police for no legitimate reason, berated with questions, and followed and watched by workers in stores.
“I still at this age and stage of my life get followed in stores,” said Weekes, who is in her 50s.
She said this is something that has been affecting Black people their whole lives and the world is now seeing it.
“You don’t hear about it here. You never hear about it. Finally, now that the states is protesting so hard, we’re finally opening our eyes like ‘it happens here too,’” said Elizabeth Norris.
Norris who has a Black cousin living in Toronto said she never understood how different her and her cousin’s lives are because of the colour of their skin.
“It just doesn’t seem fair to me so we wanted to come and show our support and bring awareness to it.”