Large crowd gathers for Freedom March through downtown Vancouver
June 19, or Juneteenth, commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States
A large crowd took to the streets of downtown Vancouver on Friday to march against racism and celebrate Black culture, on the date that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States more than 150 years ago.
The Freedom March is held in unison with Juneteenth marches and rallies across the world. Juneteenth — a commemorative holiday on June 19 — marks the day the last slaves in the U.S. were freed in 1865 following the American Civil War.
Vancouver march co-founder Nova Stevens says the fight for equality still rages on some 150 years later.
"This was decades ago, and we've yet to achieve freedom," she told CBC News. "We're continuing the fight our ancestors have started. It's up to us, the new generation, to continue that fight."
The event began at Vancouver's Jack Poole Plaza, the same site where thousands gathered for an anti-Black racism rally on June 5. The crowd embarked on a two-kilometre march starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Olympic cauldron, moving down Thurlow Street, and arrived at Sunset Beach Park shortly after 5:30 p.m.
"We're going to make sure we're seen and viewed as people. We're human beings," said Stevens.
A march for freedom
Enya Graham-Shewish was part of a group of volunteers handing out t-shirts reading "Love Black People Like You Love Black Culture" before the march began.
"I'm here to support the movement. I'm very passionate about it and I want things to change," she told CBC.
As the crowd made its way down Thurlow Street, volunteers and police were systematically blocking traffic at each intersection.
Enya Graham-Shewish has been handing out tshirts ahead of the March <a href="https://t.co/YM4Tj6Fn9Z">pic.twitter.com/YM4Tj6Fn9Z</a>—@gpsmendoza
Anti-Black racism and Black Lives Matter rallies have erupted across the globe, events sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Subsequent instances of police brutality in the U.S. and abroad have fuelled calls to defund police.
In Vancouver, anti-racism rallies have drawn crowds of thousands, both outside the Vancouver Art Gallery and at Jack Poole Plaza.
march is heading past Robson and Thurlow now <a href="https://t.co/1KKYkbdKkR">pic.twitter.com/1KKYkbdKkR</a>—@gpsmendoza
The Freedom March is now pouring into Sunset Beach Park. A crowd of thousands calling for systemic change when it comes to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada and abroad <a href="https://t.co/ctNRgKME6W">pic.twitter.com/ctNRgKME6W</a>—@jonvhernandez
This latest march was planned by Stevens and co-organizer Shamika Mitchell. The pair was inspired by the Vancouver protests, where Stevens was a speaker.
"People say that racism does not exist in Canada, but it does," said Stevens, noting that she's confronted with systemic racism in her daily life. "It's very subtle, but it's there."
"People will say things like ... 'You're pretty for a black woman, or a black girl?' Why can't I just be a beautiful woman? Why must you always make race be a part of it?" she said. "The world is not white. It's diverse."
Watch: Crowd of thousands marches to mark Juneteenth
Health and safety
Stevens and Mitchell have been organizing the march for two weeks. Following the march down Thurlow, arrived at Sunset Beach Park, where there was a showcase of Black artists, businesses, and performers. There was also a stage where members of the community spoke.
Shamika Mitchell says the park was chosen so people can safely physical distance while still exercising their right to peacefully protest an important issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Community partners have donated masks and hand sanitizer.
"We have masks, sanitizer ... and as well for people that are immune-deficient, they can watch on a livestream," she said. "I want people to leave the event with a little bit more knowledge and understanding, and for my brothers and sisters to feel empowered and heard, but also for all of us to be unified."
With thousands having attended the previous two marches, Stevens and Mitchell are expecting a similar — if not larger — turnout. They hope to send a message to government leaders that Canadians are ready for systemic change.
"United, we stand strong," said Stevens. "I feel hope. I really do feel hope."
With files from Gian-Paolo Mendoza