“They Are Our Brothers and Sisters”: Holly Residents March for Racial Justice
(Drew Saunders, June 19, 2020)
Holly, MI – The vast majority of protests against racism and police brutality shown on the news and on social media take place in big cities and suburbs. But they are happening in small rural towns too.
At least 150 people gathered June 12 to march through the streets of small-town Holly in the northwestern-most corner of Oakland County, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m about to cry,” organizer Kristin Watt told the crowd when she delivered one of the opening speeches at a park within shouting distance of the old train station. She thanked the crowed for showing “moral courage.”
Watt added “While we are predominantly a white town, we have to not forget that we do have black members of this community, we have black children who go to our school, they count just as much as we do. And with everything that is going on with the state of this country, it is crucial that we show these people, that live here with us that they are our brothers and sisters and we stand with them against injustice, racism, policy brutality and we are asking for equal justice.”
The protest was peaceful as it headed down Maple Street to its destination at the Karl Richter Community Center, at about 6:30 p.m.
Among the attendees were Republicans and Democrats, including Congressional Representative Elissa Slotkin (D – Michigan, District 8) and Michigan State Representative Mike Muller (R – District 51) as well as local officials including Township Supervisor George Kullis.
Holly Police were joined by officers of the Michigan State Police, who blocked roads to make sure the route was safe. Holly Police Chief Jerry Narsh marched with protestors.
The march moved through a neighborhood lined with Victorian-era homes. Neighbors came to their porches as the people passed. Many joined in with “no justice, no peace,” black lives matter,” and other words, claps, and cheers of support. There were a few along the way who did not approve, but the protest remained peaceful.
One of the marcher’s lives in White Lake, but has children who go to Holly public schools.
“Although it’s not as diverse as we might like it to be, we have been able to engage in peaceful activity in this community and we want to recognize the fact that black lives do matter in this community,” Cheryl Hermann said. “I’m proud of the turn out here. I think it demonstrates that there’s hope for continued diversity and peace in this community.”
When asked, Holly resident Rebecca Hummel said that the protests that have formed around the country and the world are making steps towards tangible change “In terms of baby steps. They’re starting to get attention and drive the engines of change. I just hope people keep the momentum.”
In the parking lot across the street from the community center, speeches were made by parents calling out examples of racism in Holly Area Schools, experienced by students of color. Co-organizer Jesse Torres announced a list of changes to policy, which he will be bringing to elected officials in the Village of Holly, Holly’s public school board and the Holly Township Board.
While the demands have not yet been solidified, they would include declaring that their governmental bodies are officially anti-racist, that they are “a safe and welcoming” place to live and do business, and declaring racism to be a public health crisis.
The march ended with over a hundred and fifty voices singing a classic tune of togetherness, “Lean On Me.”