A peaceful march of about 50 residents marched along Washington Street from downtown Oswego Sunday afternoon to Prairie Point Park Sunday where several speakers addressed the issues of equality, racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dubbed "Forward March", the event was organized by local residents Julianna Karvelius, a teacher at Murphy Junior High School in Plainfield, and Ella Fahlstrom.
Following guidelines set by the organizers, participants wore masks, and socially distanced when able.
Karvelius said that she was inspired by several of her students, who have been holding a small protest on an Aurora street corner on a weekly basis.
"I'm tired of not doing what I preach, and I feel like if I have the opportunity and the ability to do something bigger, then I should - as a role model for my students," Karvelius said. "I think it's important for this community, especially with it being a really small town growing into something huge, that things have changed and it's time to recognize that and acknowledge that."
In response to community members who questioned the need for a rally in Oswego, Fahlstrom, a Black woman, said that the question couldn't be answered unless someone is African-American.
"You're not going to have the same experiences that I will have," she said. "I experience Oswego totally different than you would. Racism is happening in Oswego, and not only is it happening in our neighborhoods, but it's happening in our schools."
In a welcome address to the crowd, Fahlstrom addressed the reasons for the march, including voting inequality, housing and banking inequality. She also noted the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many other African-Americans, several of whom died at the hands of law enforcement officers.
"We to march because we are tired of unarmed Black people murdered and brutalized by police," she said. "We are not looking for revenge. We want justice and we want equality.
"We are not anti-police. We are anti-police brutality. When we say 'Black Lives Matter,' we aren't saying that other lives don't matter. We are saying that for over 400 years, our lives haven't mattered."
Fahlstrom also recalled the sacrifices of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), who died last week, and dedicated the march and rally to his memory. Before the march began, the group listened to a recording of a New York Times op-ed written by Lewis and published the day of his death.
As they marched, the group chanted sayings including "Black Lives Matter", "No justice no peace, no racist police", ""2,4,6,8, Stop the violence, stop the hate," and the names of Black men, women and children including Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor.
When the group reached the park off Plainfield, they gathered at the pavilion, where area students and adults told their stories.
Shelly Lowe, a Black woman, and the parent of an Oswego School District 308 student remarked on the need to understand current circumstances before change can progress forward.
"People of color have always had a different set of rules. We had to raise our children, telling them that they need to work harder and smarter, and that they can't make the same choices and mistakes that some of their peers will," Lowe said. "It's a heavy burden for parents and children to know that at any time and any place, the rules can be changed by any person, based on their own individual prejudices."
Current and former students in OSD 308 shared their stories as well.
"I currently reside in a world and community where I am judged by the color of my skin and not the content of my character," Kameryn Rasberry said to the crowd, as she discussed the bullying and struggles she faced in the district.
"I often hear people say that all lives matter. If that were truly the case, we would not be out here protesting and trying to convince everyone that Black lives matter," she said.
Rasberry referred to several incidents of racism that she experienced in school including being spat upon, called "That colored girl," and hearing students say that Black people should go back to Africa.
"If it is true that all lives matter, I should feel safe at school, encouraged to reach my full potential, should receive equitable treatment, and not have to challenge teachers for access to academic opportunities," Rasberry said.
Oswego East High School alumnus Kiersten Rasberry, Kameryn's sister, stressed the importance of moving beyond learning about incidents of racism and discrimination, and taking action.
"Stand up for your Black colleagues and peers when you see another individual expressing bias or discriminatory views towards them. Call out your family members when they make racist remarks and try to drown out Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter," Rasberry advised.
"Today we have more eyes and ears," Lowe said, when recounting a conversation with her daughter. "More eyes that are seeing the inequality, more ears that are hearing how quickly the rules can change for people based on their place in the world.
"These eyes and ears are committed to march and fight for human rights."