Humanize Black Voices offers a platform for discussion on racial biases



John Mande shared some of his experiences with institutional racism and police brutality at the Humanize Black Voices event on June 20.

Local activists convened on Cypress Field at 5 p.m. on June 20 to discuss the racial biases and tensions regarding African-Americans. The event featured poems, speeches and discussions surrounding systemic racism and personal encounters with racial injustice.

To open the event Brookline resident Chiuba Obele, who recently sued the Brookline Police Department for racial discrimination, discussed how black culture has always taken on an important role in advocacy and change within the United States.

“Black history is the story of a dream, a story of resistance and a story of power,” Obele said. “There are many examples in history of African Americans turning plantations, prison yards and urban ghettos into a platform for expression.”

Obele sued the Brookline Police Department after an officer accused him of dating a Brookline resident in order to steal her money. In the lawsuit, he mentioned someone filing a false report saying he was misusing his girlfriend’s finances and another saying Obele abused them.

Next to speak was Dr. Chinweike Ukomadu, Associate Physician for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who described his regrets in not confronting racial issues in the workplace.

“In my field of medicine, there are usually no other black people at work. I have made a colossal mistake when I have not spoken about race,” Ukomadu said. “Now, I will speak up and talk with everyone about the racism here because I have two teenage children and I do not want a simple traffic stop to potentially be fatal.”

Following Okomadu’s speech, junior Lexi Danesco, who has helped organize numerous vigils and peaceful protests in Brookline and elsewhere, described how exhausted she and many others are regarding racial discrimination in the United States.

“As we inch further away from the murder of George Floyd, I notice many people say they are tired of the constant Instagram posts, vigils being held, protests and demands for justice, and I am tired too,” Danesco said. “I am tired we have to have this conversation in 2020 and that we cannot even agree that black lives matter.”

The next speaker was Sophomore Josue Anselme, who shared his experiences with casual racism in the Brookline Public Schools (BPS) at a young age.

“When my dad and I walked into the classroom and sat down with the rest of my white classmates, two of them immediately sat somewhere else,” Anselme said. “That was me, at just six years old, knowing people treated me differently based on the color of my skin.”

Anselme described the constant racist remarks made by his classmates in later grades as well as the misperception of people who do not believe in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Everyone that does not believe in the Black Lives Matter movement are forgetting many important things. They are forgetting the lynching, police brutality, slavery, Civil Rights Movement and systemic segregation that have spanned years,” Anselme said.

Anselme then described how his parents pressured him to cooperate with police officers because of the potential consequences of showing any retaliation as a African American boy.

“My dad did not want me to end up like Tamir Rice, because I was his age at the time, so like many black children, my parents told me how to always listen to the police and never aggravate them in any way, even if they are doing something that clearly violates your rights,” Anselme said.

Following this, METCO coordinator Malcolm Cawthorne expressed his experiences with racism in the Brookline community.

“I only had two black teachers throughout all of my Brookline High School career,” Cawthorne said. “I immediately noticed racial overtones in our football department, even though it is the most racially diverse sport at the school. At the time, I was the only black student on the baseball team for three consecutive seasons, which made me want to move away from Brookline.”

To conclude the discussion at the event, Junior Lydia Richardson spoke of her father, who is a police officer in Natick. She discussed how he has experienced racist behaviors within his department, but will continue to oppose racial discrimination.

“My dad is the only black police officer in the Natick Police Department and has received awards like Police Officer of the Year. When he first joined, an officer spray painted ‘kill this n-word cop’ on one of the buildings near his house,” Richardson said. “Our family has not let racism change or demoralize us, and we will continue to combat it.”