COUDERSPORT — A Black Lives Matter protest was organized by Coudersport tenth grader J’lina Matias along the town square here on Saturday, June 6.
Protests and marches have been held across the nation and worldwide for the past two weeks following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody. Floyd is just one of many Black people who have died in police custody in America, prompting outrage and calls for change.
Matias originally put out a call on her Facebook page, stating she wanted to organize a peaceful protest to show “our support from Potter County against the injustice going on in the world right now.”
Dozens of people showed to protest, holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “Silence = Violence” and “All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter,” just to name a few, and chant “no justice, no peace.” People driving by waved and honked in support.
Matias, who is Hispanic, is a tenth grade student at Coudersport Area School District. She has a 5-year-old brother, James, who is Black.
“I have a Black brother and I’m Hispanic, so just seeing what’s going on around the world, it hurts my heart,” Matias told the Potter Leader-Enterprise.
“I know that there’s a lot of closed-minded people in Coudersport so I just wanted to get everybody together so that we can do a peaceful protest and not have to riot just to show our support,” Matias said.
Several teenagers and younger people attended the protest, which made Matias happy.
“We’re the future, so we need to be able to express our opinions and thoughts and maybe change people’s minds and opinions on certain views … I feel like we can be very persuasive,” Matias said. “All of us coming together, we can show people that we’re not just kids. We’re bigger than that.”
Matias said she hoped that people realize that Black lives matter. In her Facebook post, she wrote, “More people need to be aware of what’s going on, silence is not the answer. Silence is the reason we are still protesting years later. This is not a cop-bashing protest, I just want to spread awareness of not only George Floyd but all of the lives lost due to the color of their skin and other hate crimes.”
Isabel Colon, Matias’ mom, said she was very proud of her daughter for organizing the protest and making her voice heard. She was a little hesitant when Matias first brought the idea to her, but she eventually came around.
For the most part, Colon said the community response was supportive. She said they got a few dirty looks and a few “fingers” given, but they were drowned out by all of the waves, smiles and people beeping as they drove by.
“I’m very impressed that so many people showed up,” Colon said. “A lot of her friends were not allowed to come, so the ones that did, it really means a lot to her.”
“It takes a positive mind to not show judgment toward anybody,” Colon said.
Isabella Scarfino, 14, and Camren Thompson, 15, both of Coudersport, were also in attendance of the protest. Scarfino said she has seen a lot of hate for people of color and thinks people her age need to stand up and create change. Thompson agreed.
“There’s a lot of hate toward Black people. Being Black, it’s hard to watch it happen,” Thompson said. The color of anyone’s skin shouldn’t matter, Thompson said. We all bleed the same, Scarfino said.
Abigail Morley, of Ulysses, said she doesn’t usually speak her mind, but couldn’t stay quite any longer, which is why she decided to attend the protest.
“Enough is enough, we need to break the silence,” Morley said.
Her sister, Naomi Keller, also of Ulysses, said she was there to stand up for what is right.
“My son is biracial, so it’s definitely a topic that concerns me,” Keller said. She worries about racism and wants to see it end.