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Juneteenth march draws 6,000 people in Vancouver
VANCOUVER -- Around 6,000 people gathered at Sunset Beach Friday evening after an anti-racism march through downtown Vancouver.
The Freedom March was scheduled intentionally to fall on “Juneteenth”— the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S.
More than 150 years ago, slaves in Texas were the last to learn they had been emancipated, and June 19 is now marked as a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States. For the first time, many in Vancouver also marked the occasion with a march and a rally, where people voiced support for the Black community and for dismantling systemic racism in Canada
Demonstrators began gathering at Jack Poole Plaza before 4 p.m. and planned to depart at 4:30 p.m. They actually left the plaza closer to 5 p.m., after hearing from organizers and from the Butterflies in Spirit, a group that raises awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women through dance.
The protesters made their way along Thurlow Street and Beach Avenue to Sunset Beach, where many would stay for several hours listening to live music and hearing from speakers.
As they walked, they chanted the name of George Floyd, the Black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked weeks of protests across North America and around the world. The marchers also chanted "I can't breathe," and "no justice, no peace."
"There aren't that many Black people in Vancouver, but to know that there are other people who support this movement is so amazing. So that's great to see the turnout here and the diversity here," said Allen Dazle, a Black demonstrator.
Natalia Sanyal and her young daughter, Tiana Nanton, said they wanted to participate in the rally to be a part of the movement.
"What I want to see is Black history and Indigenous history being taught to kids in schools, not the history from the white perspective. That's super important to me, so hopefully, we can shift the next generation as well," said Sanyal.
Nanton said she hopes to see the end of discrimination.
“Change looks like people not treating us badly because it’s not very nice to treat us like that just because we’re different,” she said.
Once demonstrators arrived at the Sunset Beach, speakers were on hand educating the crowd about the significance of Juneteenth.
Music also took centre stage. Organizers said music is an important part of Black culture, noting those enslaved would sing songs as a way to express themselves.
Organizers said it was also important to feature Black-owned businesses and inspire more people to become entrepreneurs.
"You, too, can create something, you don't need to always be a follower because that's a slave mentality: follow your master. You are your own master, and that's what we want to teach our brother and sister of colour," said Nova Stevens, one of the organizers.
Kennedy Okondo, owner of Karibu Handcrafted Soaps, said he appreciates the chance to market his products.
"With an initiative like this, we have an opportunity to be seen and supported without falling through the cracks," Okondo said.
Two previous anti-racism rallies held in the city were stationary events where protesters gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery and Jack Poole Plaza to listen to speakers.
In photos posted to social media at the start of the event, the crowd appeared significantly smaller than the estimated 5,000 to 10,000 who gathered for the previous rally at Jack Poole Plaza on June 5.
By the time the march began, the crowd had grown considerably, with thousands ultimately taking part. Police later estimated around 6,000 people gathered at Sunset Beach.
Stevens and fellow organizer Shamika Mitchell told CTV News Tuesday they were anticipating a large turnout, with protesters from as far away as Whistler, Squamish and Kelowna expressing their desire to attend.
“It was important for us to have a march because we had a lot of people from the community voice that opinion, and for us, it's all about the community coming together and all of our voices being heard," Stevens said Tuesday.
Before the start of Friday's march, Stevens said it was time to speak out against racism in B.C.
"The question is why not? And also, why did we wait so long? I find that often we wait for someone else to take action, but you, you too can change," Stevens said. "I think that we forget that the most powerful weapon that we all possess is our voice."
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has previously emphasized public health guidelines to stop the spread of the coronavirus are still in place and urged those hoping to making a difference to do so in smaller groups.
Stevens and Mitchell said there would be first aid volunteers on scene wearing red, some of whom would be able to take protesters' temperatures. Organizers also encouraged people to wear masks and physically distance throughout the event.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ian Holliday and Melanie Nagy