Tired of inaction on racism, teen takes a stand

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LENOX — People need to stand out and decry racism, whatever the weather, thought April Harwood. And they needed to do it in Lenox.

The Miss Hall's School student organized an hourlong protest Saturday in Lenox that drew about 80 people to both sides of a rain-slickened Main Street.

"We have the power to change things if we keep the momentum," Harwood said from beneath an umbrella. "But, a lot of people are forgetting about it. It was time that we do a protest. It's not over."

Harwood, who will enter the 10th grade, said she plans another public event in Lenox, perhaps next weekend. (She is interested in hearing from people who would like to speak at a future protest; they can email her at april.harwood@misshalls.org.)

Harwood's first effort drew people her age and older, including veterans of other political protests, all mobilized by the May 25 killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, and by the Black Lives Matter movement. The group later marched south on Main Street, circling Town Hall and chanting outside the police station.

Holding an "enough is enough" sign near Sunset Avenue, acupuncturist Rebecca Schirber, of Lenox, said she is confident that a growing movement for racial justice and equality can be sustained.

"We need to keep it going. We need change and we need change now," she said. "We need it yesterday. There are enough people that can keep this in mind.

"It's the young people who are going to pull us through," she said.

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A protester in her teens, Erin Czelusniak, said she was heartened that so many people came out in bad weather.

"These are people who are passionate, even if they're cold and a little damp," she said. "They want to show up. Even in little towns like this, we don't get enough representation for Black people in our community."

She and a group of friends faced passing cars, soliciting honks.

"I want people to do more than `baby honks,'" Czelusniak said playfully as drivers tapped gently on horns. "Lay on it!"

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A couple nearby held a sign, "In the age of information, ignorance is a choice." Another sign said: "You can choose to look away, but never again can you say you didn't know."

Peter Lazes, of West Stockbridge, stood with the remains of a Black Lives Matter poster that rain had reduced to pulp. Lazes said he was impressed by the turnout and felt hopeful.

"I feel like the passion in our country is coming back about injustices in a profound way," he said. "If we can get our arms around this in a profound way, we'll come out better."

Still, like others interviewed, he expressed concern that recent protests could fade away.

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"What are we going to do tomorrow?" he asked.

Harwood, the organizer, also is concerned that anti-racism efforts could flag. She said her activism arose after she witnessed overt racism in local public schools — and spoke out.

"They kind of harassed and bullied all the nonwhite students," she said of fellow students at the time. "I talked to the principals and nothing really changed. You weren't getting in trouble for being racist."

Across the street, under umbrellas, stood a contingent from Miss Hall's, including teachers, a dean and the head of school, Julia Heaton. Miss Hall's helped share notifications about Saturday's protest, as it takes its own steps against racism, including a June 2 statement of solidarity with the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In remarks to this year's graduates, Heaton spoke not only of the coronavirus pandemic, but of "the national disease of racism."

On Saturday, she stood watching the young organizer, with evident admiration.

"This is all her, of course. We're all happy to celebrate her great work," she said of Harwood.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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