One Year of Standing Up for Black Lives on Bedford Common

Stand Up for Black Lives ~ A collection of images gathered during the summer of 2020

 

A year since a group of residents began weekly demonstrations on the Common, racism still permeates many parts of American society.

That doesn’t surprise the organizers.

“We are certainly talking about generational change. This situation does not lend itself to quick fixes or dramatic signs of progress,” Mark Bailey declared. “There are no short cuts here.”

Shannon Leonard agreed. “It’s going to happen incrementally – we may take three steps forward and two steps back. But people will be able to look back and notice that there was progress.”

These weekly statements were sparked on social media, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Leonard, a Bedford High School graduate who grew up in Boston and was often the only white face in her class, announced on her Facebook page that “I was going to stand on the Common with a sign. And I received a response from a Bedford High classmate, who was a METCO alumna, and another METCO graduate joined us as well.”

As the three of them demonstrated, along came a photo op for the ages – their classmate Tim Pike, a Bedford police officer, stepped out of his cruiser to say hello. “Any differences didn’t matter – he was our friend,” Leonard said. “And I realized I was doing the right thing. I felt the need to express myself and Bedford needed a demonstration, something that would fit Bedford.”

She launched a Facebook group, Stand Up for Black Lives in Bedford, and Bailey quickly became involved. Soon the hour-long Friday evening statements were underway.

“The intent was to make a stand, to be visible and vocal, in opposition to structural racism that allows Black people to be slaughtered by police with very little consequence. We were together with other young people who felt the need to do something,” Bailey said. There were times when more than 200 people participated, many of them in high school.

Leonard said she and Bailey “work together, bounce ideas off each other, and help each other put things in perspective.”

Each Friday participants are arrayed along the north perimeter of the Common, parallel to The Great Road. Their signs and occasional chants make their message clear. Often passing motorists acknowledge with horns, hand gestures, occasional shouts. The group only missed a few weeks in December.

Bailey observed, “I feel we were able to avert the town’s putting its head back in the sand. We have been standing in defiance of that pressure to go back to normal, that path of least resistance. I honestly don’t think about the actual impact – we never know the impact of a given moment. Perhaps a person of color driving through is surprised to see people standing for them.”

“We plan to suspend our activity on the Common for the summer after Saturday’s Juneteenth rally (starting at 5 p.m.). One project we may consider would be to lobby the Select Board to support a Juneteenth flag-raising ceremony for June of 2022 and ongoing,” Bailey said. Leonard said, “I just hope we can continue the momentum.”

“We remain determined to keep this conversation active and to maintain a safe space for like-minded people to learn from and support each other, to stay connected with other groups such as Bedford Embraces Diversity and Parents Diversity Council,” Bailey asserted. “Bedford residents committed to anti-racism are warmly invited to join our group.”

Bailey expressed gratitude to “people in town and driving through who support our message, for keeping the conversation going.”

“I recall in particular hearing from several Black and biracial families here in Bedford, many of whom said they couldn’t personally attend with or without their kids because it’s too emotional,” he related. “These families expressed gratitude during a challenging time, thanking us for speaking up for their families and kids and every black American, saying they appreciate us sharing the load.”

Leonard had a first-hand corroboration. “My partner in life is a Black man and he supports me – but it’s just too traumatic for him, too emotional. I feel like I’m doing that for him. It’s a duty for me to stand up for him and all of the people of color in my life who I consider family and friends.”

“I know we needed this because of the responses we have received on the street. I do credit Bedford for being an accepting place,” Leonard said. She acknowledged that they have seen “one or two trucks that have Confederate symbols and make loud noises. But it’s a handful of people who disagree with us.’’

Bailey also had a message “for those in town and driving through town who are vocal in their opposition to our message. Standing strong in the face of that opposition is part of the point for us. It seems clear to me that, however they choose to express it, we are making them in some way uncomfortable.”

“What I know for sure is people who spoke to me who said thank you for standing up for us when we couldn’t stand.”

The rallies on the Common are not just local exercises; they are connected to national events, Bailey said. “The image of Bedford’s cherished battle flag flying at the Jan. 6 insurrection made it clear as day that our town’s history is not some set of static events in the past, but rather an ongoing force.”

“When you apply a historical lens to current events they always are more nuanced and complex,” he continued. “This history is a perfect example –seeing the flag really crystallized how much of our history we are still living. Many in Bedford said ‘That’s not us.’ But not all.”

Recently on Facebook, someone shared a photograph from a local business posting in a display window a warning about shoplifters. All of the faces were Black. Someone brought it to the attention of management, Leonard said, and the store removed the poster. “That’s progress, which is the purpose of all of this,” she said.” Bailey pointed out, “We never really know the impact we have on a given person.”

Speaking personally, Leonard said, “I’m so happy that I started this. There’s so much more community in my life. It has been an interesting experience to be out there and it brought me closer to Bedford. People have reached out and thanked me. I have gotten to know people who I hadn’t met.”

Bailey offered a global perspective. “Too often, just like with mass shootings, our national outrage tends to fade as a two- or three-week news cycle runs its course. Our broadest goal has been to be a force that makes it harder for people of privilege to succumb to the illusion that everything is going to be all right.”

“Gathering sustained us and helped us stay true to our purpose and goals as individuals and as a group,” he continued. “We’re all on our own anti-racism journeys. We draw strength from being together.”

“I would love to see more Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our town. Like many local suburbs, Bedford’s current makeup is the product of centuries of trauma, stretching from the slaughter of Indigenous people by settlers, to slavery, and into Jim Crow, redlining, and the GI Bill that stand as examples of post-slavery structural racism that had a distorting effect. I would love to see the effects of that distortion mitigated and reversed.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763