100-year-old protest inspires Euclid March for Peace

On July 28, Taneika Hill’s computer screen prompted her to reflect on “this day in history.”

The Euclid City Council member read about the 100th anniversary of the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade, when nearly 10,000 African American men, women and children silently marched along New York City’s Fifth Avenue to the beat of a muffled drum. The massive 1917 demonstration was the first of its kind, organized in response to racial violence, lynchings and white supremacy throughout America. Without any chants, singing or speeches, the Silent Protest Parade set the stage for what would become the American civil rights movement.This reminder of the historic protest weighed on Hill’s heart, knowing we haven’t made as much progress toward racial equality as she would have hoped a century later.  “We need another event like this,” she thought to herself while contemplating all the social justice issues America is currently facing. Just weeks later, the Euclid city council member would be asked to take a public stand when her local police department became the center of widely publicized controversy.

Throughout the summer, as disturbing national and local issues continued to unfold, the urgent need for meaningful, positive action became clearer to Hill, also a licensed minister at Euclid’s Imani United Church of Christ . “I have to start from a place of love,” she is known for saying.  While Hill acknowledges there is much work ahead for Euclid’s city leaders, she makes an effort to sprinkle her requests and conversations “with honey.”  So the notion of a silent, peaceful demonstration was something she believed could pave the way for future healing and reconciliation efforts.

“You can spend a year fussing over details,” she quips, but when Imani’s head pastor, Michele Humphrey, contacted her to confirm the need, Hill stepped forward in faith. All of the imagined obstacles fell away. After just one official meeting, plans for a custom-designed peace pole breezed through the city’s approval process, and the Euclid March for Peace was scheduled for early October. Once the date was selected, fellow residents, city leaders and the faith community were quick to support Hill’s effort, with final plans coming together in just a few short weeks.

In the days leading up to the march, several local families also joined together for a #PeaceForEuclid rock painting activity in connection with the event. Rocks from local beaches were hand painted and tagged with words of encouragement, to be passed out or hidden throughout Euclid, with the goal of spreading the positive energy beyond the one day rally. Rock decorators were encouraged to hide or share their creations and post images on a local community Facebook group.

On Sunday, Oct. 8, more than 100 community members gathered at Euclid City Hall and marched to the steady drumbeat of the Euclid High School marching band. Strangers linked arms, while adults and children passed out their Lake Erie “peace rocks” to onlookers, with some joining the crowd as they approached their final destination at Triangle Park for a moment of silence and some inspiring words from Hill (pictured below, addressing the crowd) and other faith leaders.

Once there, the newest peacemakers added their names to a white banner of signatures that would be raised up to complete the newly dedicated peace pole, designed by volunteer artist Richard Fiorelli.  Based on the spiritual principle that what we focus on will multiply, the event was an intentional celebration of diversity, unity and neighborly love.

During her remarks, Hill encouraged marchers to build on the day’s positive energy by looking for ways to connect and help one another, rather than judging and condemning those whose circumstances we don’t understand. Later that same day, a single mother voiced concern on a community social media page about her struggles to keep up with landscaping. Inspired by Hill’s call to action, several residents stepped forward and contacted the mayor to coordinate a yard cleanup the following weekend, complete with ongoing lawn maintenance from a Boy Scouts troop.

For as long as there have been peace marches and protests, there have been people who question their relevance and long-term impact. But with a legacy of courage and action that began a century ago, and tangible outcomes like the one above, Hill is confident she is meant to continue what she has started. Plans are already underway for a 2018 follow-up Unity Day and ongoing community conversations that she hopes will foster unlikely friendships and a stronger, more peaceful future for Euclid.

 

Peace, it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. – Unknown

Editor's Note: WISH Cleveland and Pam Turos were participants in the Euclid March for Peace. We have previously covered the issues faced by Euclid here and here.

Header photo and gallery credit: Randy Blackford

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