Kitchener-Waterloo

Thousands rally against racism and police brutality at K-W solidarity march

The streets of downtown Kitchener have been relatively empty for months, but on Wednesday evening thousands of people marched through the city's core, rallying against systemic racism and police brutality.

'Being a black person in Canada isn't as easy as people say it is,' says 17-year-old

Ebony Smith, a 17-year-old from Cambridge, says people can be blind to the racism that's happening here in Canada. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The streets of downtown Kitchener have been relatively empty for months — but on Wednesday evening, thousands of people marched through the city's core, rallying against systemic racism and police brutality.

People gathered at Gaukel Street and Charles Street at 5 p.m. near Victoria Park for the K-W Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter. The rally was organized in unison with other protests across North America following the death George Floyd in the United States, along with several other police killings of black people.

"Being a black person in Canada isn't as easy as people say it is," said Ebony Smith.

Thousands of people wearing masks gathered near Victoria park then marched through downtown Kitchener. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

The 17-year-old from Cambridge came to the solidarity march with her friends to represent her community. She said people often don't recognize that racism exists in our own backyards.

"I deal with a lot of micro-aggressions. I deal with a lot of discrimination and social injustice," said Smith.​​​​​​ "I dimmed my blackness. I dressed a different way. I would speak a certain way to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable."

Smith said hearing about the deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor has left her scared. 

"Am I next?" she said.

Smith was surrounded by people of all ages and backgrounds, chanting "black lives matter." The majority were wearing masks, which organizers said were mandatory. Although for the most part, there wasn't physical distance between people, which regional authorities said they were concerned about.

'Being silent is being complicit'

Several police officers were present, riding along protesters on bicycles. 

Euraysia Duhaime arrived before the march started. In watching the coverage of Floyd's death over the past days, she said her first impulse was to be silent.

Euraysia Duhaime says she decided to take part in the solidarity march because every day she witnesses systemic racism. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

"But then I thought this is not me. Being silent is being complicit in the system," Duhaime said.

She said it's the memory of her grandmother, who was from Barbados, that inspired her to speak out and take action as a light-coloured person with privilege. 

"This is not just a black people problem, this is an everybody problem," said Duhaime.

Andy Wareing says the only way society can move forward is by standing together. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Andy Wareing said he's been reflecting on his privilege over the last week. He came to the march because "enough is enough."

"As a white man, I am privileged," said Wareing. "There's not much we can do to stop that privilege, but we can do our best to show our solidarity and say that we're here for them, for everyone, together."

'First step to a better future'

Monty Ben Khayal says he wanted to show his support beyond words. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Monty Ben Khayal also wanted to show support for his black friends which goes beyond words. He grew up in Libya and said he understands the realities of racism. 

"I want to make sure I stand on their side," said Ben Khayal.

He was encouraged by the peaceful nature of the KW march, but said the violence at riots across the U.S. has made him sad.

Olivia Johnston and Rebecca Prince say it's important for them to recognize that racism is happening in Canada. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Olivia Johnston and Rebecca Prince marched together. Being part of the rally was an important way for them to recognize that racism against black people isn't just a problem in the U.S.

The last week has been one of sadness and reflection for them, as they've learned more about the recent police killings of black people.

"I've been wildly overwhelmed and terrified and sad. Just a lot of disbelief this is happening in 2020," said Johnston.

"For a person of colour, it's just been really overwhelming mostly," said Prince."Things like this are a first step to a better future."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca

now