Nutley for Black Lives: How NHS Alumni are Leading the Call for Town-wide Change
The longstanding crisis of police violence and systemic racism in America hit a flashpoint on May 25, 2020 as Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. Floyd’s death prompted a surge of demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement that quickly spread from Minneapolis to the rest of the country.
Between May 26, the day after Floyd’s death, and August 22, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) recorded over 7,750 demonstrations linked to the BLM movement in all 50 states. Nutley for Black Lives came to fruition during this time, in late May, after video footage of Floyd’s murder began appearing on the internet. Several protests took place in Nutley. A majority of them were organized by former NHS students with the long-term goal of creating local action to combat discrimination. It was through their efforts that Nutley for Black Lives came to be.
“We are a small, hometown organization dedicated to fighting alongside the Black Lives Matter movement and all Black, Indigenous, People of Color [BIPOC] in the fight for equality in this country,” says AnneMarie Reisch, a current leader of the group.
Her involvement with the organization began after attending a pop-up protest on the corner of Franklin and Centre Street. At the time, the group did not have any BIPOC members, but was committed to amplifying those much needed voices. Reisch was asked to join the organization, while Aria Angelique and Catherine Pezo came on board shortly after. Together the three lead Nutley for Black Lives.
Early on, Reisch, Angelique, Pezo and the entire organization was met with confrontation from the larger community. “[We’ve been faced] with people yelling at us from their cars, staring at us and even an entire counter-protest. Race and equality isn’t a topic to necessarily win people over on, but educate those who are willing to learn. And those who are not willing, have made that very clear,” Reisch said.
The organization started to gain more traction following a town-wide march on June 7, 2020. As of today, members of Nutley for Black Lives are in communication with the town’s Diversity Council, headed by Commissioner John V. Kelly. They are also working with the Nutley schools, generating ideas related to curriculum. Jessica Lemire, a sophomore English teacher at the high school, works as the organization’s connection to NHS.
“Addressing racism with honesty and accountability as it pertains to our systems is the only way we can move forward and achieve true equality,” Lemire said. “It won’t be easy because we’ve been conditioned in so many of these norms and beliefs our whole lives, but everyone (not just BIPOC) will benefit from policies and procedures that are anti-racist and anti-bias.”.
The organization's most ambitious action thus far was announced this February in unison with it being Black History month.
“[We recently established a] scholarship for two Black high school students. It’s the first scholarship of its kind in high school,” Reisch said..
Nutley for Black Lives is now planning for the future looking to get anti-racism training to teachers and guest speakers into schools while still remaining under the confines of social distance and mask wearing. Their goal in all of this is to “inspire the next generation of students to continue using their voices and educating themselves,” spreading the message that direct anti-racist policies and reform in the town and the nation, Reisch said.
As more progressive action is being planned by Nutley for Black Lives, Lemire encourages students to take initiative and join the effort.
“The one thing every young person needs to know is that they can make a difference. First do some research [to] know what it is you care about and why you care about it. Make sure you’re familiar with the issue from a variety of viewpoints. Education is key,” Lemire maintained.
Nutley for Black Lives operates primarily through social media. You can find information on their work and efforts via Instagram or Twitter at @nutleyforblacklives.