At Keene Black Lives Matter Event, Calls To End 'White Silence' | New Hampshire Public Radio

At Keene Black Lives Matter Event, Calls To End 'White Silence'

Jun 15, 2020

Aja Hall speaks to demonstrators on Saturday, June 13 in Keene's Central Square.
Credit Daniela Allee / NHPR

This past weekend saw more demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in several New Hampshire communities, including Plymouth, Rochester and Peterborough. For many, the rallies are providing forums to discuss the need for concrete, local change amid the national debate over racism and police violence.

Saturday evening in Keene, where a crowd of demonstrators filled Central Square, residents shared their experiences of dealing with racism in the city. Iyla Cousins, a senior at Keene High School, was one of several young black women who spoke to the crowd.

She said she hears the n-word often in her school, and urged her white classmates and adults to acknowledge - and combat - racism in daily conversations.

“You white high schoolers out there, adults, everything: You should call out your friends when you hear it,” Cousins said.  “It’s your job to call out it as well, because when we call it out, we’re the angry black person. So you can do something about it too.” 

Cousins said she is one of the few black students in her school, and she can “count on both my hands" the number of black friends she has in Keene.

“You need to take into consideration that microagressions are there and stuff makes us uncomfortable," she said. "And be aware of what you’re saying."

Cousins’ mother, Amy Cousins, attended the rally with her children, holding a sign that read “White Silence = Violence.”

“Finally Keene folks are waking up,” she said. “I’m hoping it’s more than words. I know a lot of people are caught up in the excitement. White people are finally taking the time to understand what it’s like to walk as a black person in the world.” 

Amy Cousins, who is white, said, as the mother of black children, she finds that some people are quiet around her when it comes to race.

“But they’re not quiet amongst each other and themselves,” she said. 

Credit Daniela Allee / NHPR

Aja Hall, an artist who lives in Troy, told demonstrators that for change to happen, they needed to take steps beyond attending the rally, including calling politicians and demanding reform.

“Today can’t be the only day; next week can’t be the only week; next month can’t be the only month," Hall said. "We have to be together all the time.”

During the rally, a petition circulated to require the Keene Police Department to use body cameras. Organizers later said they collected 210 signatures that night.

Jake Frechetti, who lives in Stoddard, made the drive to Keene for what was his first rally. He said he hopes the energy continues, and one change he supports is rethinking how police departments are funded – including in New Hampshire.  

“I think it might be more helpful to think of funding other things instead," Frechetti said. "It doesn’t take a military to serve and protect a community or to build a community. So I think if we look at budgets and how funds can be better spent to serve communities, I think that would be a great next step.”

Posters on lamp posts in Central Square reminded attendees to virtually attend a public forum on racial justice Monday night put on by the city's mayor.