The turnout was enormous, far exceeding the numbers that main organizers Kyle Umemba and Jayde Umemba had expected. The speeches were extraordinary, delivered with high energy and intense emotion.
More than 800 residents attended the Black Lives Matter Protest Sunday afternoon at Chelsea City Hall. There was a peaceful march on Broadway followed by a speaking program outside City Hall.
Long-time city official Leo Robinson felt the rally met its mission of bringing unity and awareness to the issue of racism and the national events of the past two weeks. Several participants wore attire and carried signs honoring the memory of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis on May 25.
“I thought it was great for the City of Chelsea that so many people came out,” said Robinson. “I was very impressed by the speakers and their message. I also want to say the Chelsea Police did an excellent job.”
Joan Cromwell, president of the Chelsea Black Community, was the master of ceremonies. As it turned out, it was her son, Kyle Umemba, who delivered one of the most dynamic and inspiring speeches of the day.
“Amen, that’s my son,” said Joan Cromwell following Kyle’s message of hope.
Jayde Umemba, District Attorney Rachael Rollins (who was introduced by Leo Robinson), Councillor-at-Large Damal Vidot, and City Manager Thomas Ambrosino also delivered inspiring messages, all eliciting cheers of approval from the crowd.
Kyle Umemba spoke last and his remarks stood as tall as the 6-feet-3-inch graduate of two elite institutions of learning, Buckingham Browne and Nichols prep school and George Washington University, himself. He works in finance for Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
Kyle began his speech by thanking the Chelsea Interfaith Alliance, Chelsea Collaborative, City Manager Thomas Ambrosino, the Chelsea Police and Fire Departments, Rep. Dan Ryan, and the city councilors.
“Look around, it’s peaceful, it’s beautiful, we respect this community and we love each other,” said Kyle, drawing applause from the assemblage. “This is a great event. We’ve all come together for different walks of life.”
Kyle related how he was told by his parents, Kenneth Umemba and Joan Cromwell, “to speak properly, look in to people’s eyes, be respectful, and treat people with a level of respect and a sense of self no matter who you are, no matter where you come from.”
He recounted an incident that he experienced with law enforcement officers when he was driving home for work attired in a business suit and his vehicle ran out of gas.
As the interaction with the officers on the scene developed, Kyle recalled thinking, ‘Whatever’s going to be is going to be. What I mean by that is, whatever it is going to be is going to be – whether I’m here or not, it is going to be and I had no control over my life and that is what it means for a Black life to matter.”
Kyle, who with Cesar Castro directs Let it Fly, the area’s most well-attended summer basketball tournament, concluded, saying, “I want to thank you all for coming out here today. I appreciate you. I love you. We hope to turn this momentum into actionable steps and really implement some change in this community. Across this state, across the country – they are protesting peacefully, respectfully. We are here. We did it. We’re lovely. The police force can tell we’re good.”
Jayde Umemba, a 24-year-old graduate of Boston University, said public speaking wasn’t her forte, but those who attended the rally would dispute that notion.
“There’s a conversation that needs to be heard,” said. “Thank you all or coming here today and standing in solidarity with us. We heard about George Floyd’s murderers, Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers, they’ve all been taken into custody, but that’s not enough. We want more. Too many times have we been here. Too many times have we gotten the charge, but no conviction. Too many times have we had to lock things up and let things go, lock up our anger and pain and sadness and disappointment after they refuse to lock up a racist murderer. Too many times we’re no longer locking those feelings up because we want more, we need more, we deserve more and we should have had more.
“So now you’re going to hear it until we get it – you’re going to feel it until we get it,” said Jayde. “We want charges. We want convictions. We want to stop being murdered, disrespected, racially profiled.”
Joan Cromwell introduced Damali Vidot as “an influential member of our community.”
“She walks the walk, she talks the talk, in solidarity and truth and she’s real, 24/7,” said Cromwell.
“No justice, no peace,” Vidot said in unison with her constituents. “We’re a community and a world in mourning right now. The murder of George Floyd was a complete disregard for Black life, in the middle of the street in broad daylight.”
Vidot said she was “inspired by the unity throughout the world to adjust these unjust systems. I’m also inspired because of the young people that are leading these efforts, like Kyle and Jayde, and saying ‘no more’ to systemic injustice and allowing older people like me to follow their lead and honoring my voice.”
Vidot said the death of George Floyd “sparked something in all of us.”
“We are at a pivotal point, my friends, to be having tough conversations about reimagining what serving and protecting looks like,” said Vidot, who related some of her experiences with police brutality. “It’s up to us to foster a world where the knee is off our neck.”
“I just wanted to come and support you in this really powerful showing,” said DA Rollins. “I can hear the anger and the hurt in your voices but this is how protests happen. I’m proud to see that people are compliant and I’m really proud to see members of law enforcement here in a helpful way.”
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino said, “I watched with horror those events in Minnesota. As a human, it just appalled me that that can still take place in this country that I love. But the fact that kind of brutality can still exist – it’s just horrific in my mind. But as a city official who has spent 30-plus years of my life in local government trying just to help people, and to feel that I’m part of a system that still has that kind of pervasive racism in it, that can allow such a thing to happen – it leads me to recognize that I still have so much more work to do as a local official.
“I don’t have the answers and I don’t know exactly what’s the next step to take, but I’m going to tell you I’m here to listen and try my best to understand to take the right steps forward,” said Ambrosino. “We can come together to find solutions in a way that is tolerant, that is civil, and that is peaceful, but most important is hopeful for the future.”
The Chelsea Police had a large contingent on hand and Joan Cromwell gave “a shutout to Chelsea PD Chief Brian Kyes – who worked with us. We were in grade school together so he’s one of us, for real.” The Rev. Dr. Sandra Whitley closed the program with a prayer of hope and an expression of gratitude for the Chelsea Black Community and “the leadership that we have in this community.”