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Manchester Black Lives Matter Organizer Hopes Movement 'Sparks Change'


Saturday's protests in Manchester drew as many as a thousand people. Black Lives Matter of Manchester helped organize the peaceful demonstration, which gathered in Veterans Park.

NHPR's All Things Considered host Peter Biello interviewed Ronelle Tshiela, a local organizer who spoke Saturday in New Hampshire's largest city.

(Below is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.)

"So this does not stop here. It is not just about coming to the park to march. It is not just about posting Instagram pictures after this. It is not just about making cute signs. When you go, vote in November ..."

That's the sound of Ronelle Tshiela, one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement in Manchester. She's with me now. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Thank you for having me. I really appreciate that.

So let's talk about how Saturday went from your perspective. What was noteworthy about the protest and the crowd that attended it?

It was really great. It was really powerful. It went a lot better than we had expected it to. You know, we did something just like this in 2016. We had a good turnout. However, this turnout exceeded our expectations and it was amazing. I was happy that the protests stayed peaceful. And I think one of the most powerful things is having a speak and having other people speak and hearing the voices of black people in New Hampshire and in our communities and having people actually listen to us.

And you helped start Black Lives Matter in Manchester when you were in high school, right?

Yes, I was a junior in high school. I was a rising senior.

And what led you to start the group then?

You know, as young people, we were extremely tired of waiting for people, you know, older than us to mobilize and start things. And we realized that it was up to us to have a voice and we had a duty in our community and in this country to be a voice for young black people and black people in general. And so one day we just decided that, you know, we were tired of hearing about things and we wanted to take action and make our voices heard.

So what feels different about this moment in New Hampshire now?

I think more people are waking up, you know, like at the time when we received a lot of support. But we also, of course, received a lot of opposition. And it definitely feels that we are becoming more united. But at the same time, you can feel that people are becoming more tired and we're exhausted. You know, we don't want to hear about this. We don't have. We don't want to have to march. You know what I mean? And people are becoming tired of that becoming a normal thing. You know what I mean? And so, yeah, I think that's definitely it's definitely a different atmosphere, although there are there are some parallels. But at the same time, things have changed a little bit in that way.

What are you hoping will come out of this?

I'm hoping that this part of the movement sparks change, you know. A lot of people think that we don't really have a problem with racism and prejudice and things like that here in the state of New Hampshire or even at all. And so I'm hoping that we not only get people to listen, but we promote people to, you know, fight with us and stand with us. And change actually comes from it.

We've seen images from around the country of protesters confronting the police. How would you describe the relationship between Black Lives Matter and the Manchester Police Department?

We've created a relationship with the police in order to make sure that people in Manchester are able to freely exercise their right to free speech and be safe about it. There are a lot of people in Manchester who have animosity towards the Manchester police and us as well. We have different stories that we can tell about encounters with the Manchester police, you know, but I think it's important for us to work together with people who are actually willing and in a position to help us create change.

And do you get the sense that the Manchester Police Department is willing to work with you and help create change?

At this time, yes. This is the second police administration that we have worked with. Former police chief Willard was very willing to do things and help us create change and work with us. We just recently spoke with the new Manchester police chief and as well as the other men and women on the force. We think that a lot of them are with us. Obviously, they are going to be some people who are opposed to us and maybe are not willing to work with us. But I think that we owe it to ourselves and to everybody else to try to create that relationship and bridge that gap in order to create change.

Your speech in Veterans Park at the protest included a call to vote. Can you talk a little bit about what this year's elections mean to you and what's at stake for Black Lives Matter?

I think it means a lot to me. You know, I was really disappointed in 2016. You know, I was a high school student. I couldn't even vote. But I was still very politically active. And I decided to come to the University of New Hampshire to study political science, to figure out why things happen, what works, what doesn't work, and how we can really create change throughout through the political system. And I think a lot is at stake for us in our movement and people of color and specifically black people in this country. I feel like our current administration has perpetuated narratives that make it OK for people to be racist and discriminatory and prejudiced. And I think that if we don't act and if we don't get out there and go to the polls in November, then we risk being silent and we risk more black lives being lost. We risk our country becoming complacent and we risk everyone being okay with the current atmosphere in this country in regards to race.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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