I grew up in Chelsea Michigan, a small town 20 minutes away from Ann Arbor. Chelsea is a racially homogenous community, and has very few minorities, so when protests for Black Lives Matter started happening in the end of May, I never thought they would happen in my community. Sure, I expected a few small isolated protests to pop up, but not much more than that. But much to my surprise, my town was holding a rally against racism in a local park. I packed up my camera and drove into town 30 minutes after the set start time, because I truly believed it would be a measly showing of some high school and college students.
When I passed Pierce Park, I was astonished. There were a couple hundred people, all six feet apart, in a circle around a microphone, where various members of the community spoke. I just couldn’t believe it. The age of attendees ranged from infants to senior citizens. The biggest surprise was how many older members of the community came to show their support.
I have never seen my small, white community come together like this before, unless it was for a high school football game, or the Christmas parade. The protest remained peaceful, everyone sat and did not move until the speakers were finished. Then, a small group of mostly high school and college students marched down Main Street. I figured that night was the end of it. Everyone showed up to support the community and we would never speak of it again. I was happily surprised by my town.
But later that day, I received several texts about a march planned for exactly a week later. I was once again surprised. I arrived at the starting location for the march (earlier this time) and there were less people than the rally, most likely because a march does not allow for any social distancing and did not allow the older or at risk populations to participate in the same capacity as the week before.
The crowd gathered in Pierce Park, the location of the rally the week before, and were briefed about the route that they were planning on following. There were no official organizers of this protest.
They then promptly started marching right down Main Street, in the heart of our town. They were chanting loud enough for the whole town to hear.
Chelsea is known for two major landmarks, the Clock Tower standing on Main Street and the Jiffy Mix Factory (the only one in the world). The normally peaceful downtown disrupted with cries for change and justice. It was very powerful to see the protesters march down Main Street, passing these large icons of our town. Store owners looked through their windows at the protesters and people in cars stopped to raise their fists.
The protest then turned off Main Street and went through neighborhoods downtown, where houses had people came outside to see what was going on. Most people were cheering for the protestors and were looking on proudly of what their community was doing. The march picked up many people along the way that joined their cause as well.
The crowd became louder and louder as the march went on, shouting “say their names,” “no justice, no peace” and “these racist cops have got to go.”
The route ended in front of a Chelsea High School’s administrator home, to send a message of how change needs to start in the education system, while children are learning how they see the world, and our school systems need to lead by example. The crowd was now much bigger than when they started, now at about 100-150 people.
The group then circled back and ended right where they started for an open mic.
I was incredibly moved by Diarra Seye, who spoke of her experience at Chelsea as one of the only black students, and as a Black woman living in America.
I never realized the treatment she was getting, when I was right inside the building with her. We were even in the tennis program together. “I don’t see my color but everyone else does, I feel like a normal person,” she remarked. What resonated with me the most was: “I didn’t know that people in Chelsea actually cared,” which was my attitude as well, but seeing how proud she was of our community made me so proud to be a part of it.