Thousands line Unity Bridge, ‘standing together’ for justice

Chants of “No justice! No peace!” and “Black Lives Matter” were punctuated by enthusiastic car horns as the George’s Peaceful Unity Demonstration march moved along the side of Douglas Avenue toward Holland's Unity Bridge on Sunday afternoon.

The group of 3,000 to 4,000 people lined Unity Bridge to show their solidarity in standing against racism in America.

Protests and rallies have sprung up across the country in recent weeks, after video surfaced of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, dying while Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
Shutaveya Ward speaks to the crowd during a rally before the march.
“We choose unity. We choose peace. We choose togetherness,” co-organizer Shutaveya Ward says. “We can enact change by standing together.”

Organizers addressed the crowd that filled the grassy field across the street from Harbor Church, 269 Douglas Ave., before the march began.

‘We want change’

“I stand here today to tell you I hear you, I see you, and everyone who came out here today to support sees you, too, and we want change. We stand today with police officers and citizens alike because we are all angry, all tired, and we want to end the attack on the lives of our fellow Americans,” co-organizer Lily Harman, 18, told the crowd. 

“For Breonna Taylor, for Trayvon Martin, for Ahmaud Arbery, for George Floyd, and for all the names lost in history, we stand here today to reject the hatred where it starts and to end the homicide of black Americans across the country. You are loved, and we will fight every day in any way we can until the world learns to love you back.”

Organizers worked with the Holland Department of Public Safety to create a safe flow of people along the bridge.

“I think the fact that (local police) are willing to work with us shows they want change, too,” Ward says.

Ward, who is black, says she already worries for her 4-year-old son.

“I have a black son. He’s going to be a bigger black man. People are going to fear him just seeing him. I want to make sure he doesn’t go through some of the same injustices I have gone through,” she says. “(Today) is a start. It’s definitely not an end.”

Mix of people

Sterling Shepard, of Zeeland, brought his 14-year-old son. 

Chants of “No justice! No peace!” and “Black Lives Matter” were punctuated by enthusiastic car horns of support as people lined Holland's Unity bridge.“I’m hoping there can be some reconciliation,” Shepard said, “That this is not just a moment, that something is going to happen down the line.”

He was proud to see a mix of people at the rally, including many white allies, standing against racism.

His son, Sterling Shepard II, said he is hoping protests and marches like this one will bring about more peace and equality.

“People say we’re equal, but I don’t think we quite are,” says the teen, who has been called the N word at school and whose peers sometimes make assumptions about him based on his skin color.

Marchers in medical masks carried signs with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Stand for Change,” “If not now, when?” “Can you breathe?” and “How many weren’t filmed?” as they marched in the grass along Douglas Avenue toward Unity Bridge, which crosses the Macatawa River and connects the city of Holland and Holland Township.

‘Far too long’

Charles Huttar, who is 87 and white, calls being part of the crowd of marchers “a meaningful experience,” adding the walk wasn’t easy for him, but it was important.

George’s Peaceful Unity Demonstration march drew a diverse crowd. “It’s been going on for far too long,” he says of racism in America.

Holland City Councilman Quincy Byrd says he felt joy at seeing the diverse crowd.

“Unity is about white and black and other racial groups coming together voicing one concern — united,” Byrd says. “You need a consensus to move in that direction. I think we’re moving in the right direction, and we’re a lot closer than we were even a little while ago.”

At Wednesday’s Holland City Council meeting, Byrd, who is black, teared up when he said, “We have to have the conversations. We have to continue to press forward, because we can’t, we can’t, we can’t have all of these black men dying for no reason.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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