Hundreds gather in Twinsburg Town Square

Protest supported Black Lives Matter

Eric Marotta
Kent Weeklies
Hundreds gathered on Twinsburg Town Square Sunday to protest racism and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

TWINSBURG — Around 600 people gathered at Twinsburg High School and marched down Ravenna Road to Twinsburg Town Square Sunday afternoon to protest racism and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

The march ended at a rally on the square, where the crowd gathered to hear speakers discuss the situation facing the nation and how people locally are affected by racism, both systemic, as well as racism people have experienced on an individual level, both in the past and today.

The Rev. Tracy Wilson, of the Real Gospel Missionary Baptist Church, and the Rev. Calvin Brown, of Destiny Church, led prayers for love, fellowship and racial equality.

Mayor Ted Yates promised the city would move forward in promoting equality, noting he had consulted with the two pastors.

“The theme of my church this year is ‘Love matters most,” he said. “Who’d have ever thought that we would be standing here today to talk about love?

“I don’t know where I can go on, or what I can do, but I’m in a position where I can do something here in Twinsburg, and I promise you that I will try to do that,” he said.

Twinsburg Township Fiscal Officer Tania Johnson described some of the challenges black children have faced in the schools, explaining how young black girls when she was a student at Twinsburg High School were not allowed to be cheerleaders — “and that’s the honest truth.”

“But we were OK, we survived because we were strong — we were on drill team, so it gave us an outlet,” she said

Johnson said she had lived her entire life in the predominantly black Twinsburg Heights neighborhood. She said that although there are a lot of tales of crime there, it is actually a peaceful place where residents share a unique sense of community. She suggested the audience all take time to look at the documentary, Voices of the Hill, available online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mzjKF6kIFs.

She also said that over the past 16 years she’s worked at Twinsburg High School, black students came to her for help. Then her role expanded.

“When I started at the high school — again there’s not that many of us black staff members there — so the kids would always come to me. They saw somebody that they could identify with, and I became a mother, to not just the black students, but to the white students, the asians and everyone else. They were able to see me, I was visible to them and I’ve had a lot of conversations with them and probably a lot of you out in the audience,” she said.

Only a handful of police were present at the gathering, including Twinsburg Police Chief Christopher Noga.

Noga told the audience he and his wife chose to live in Twinsburg 23 years ago specifically because of its diversity.

“When my wife and I decided to raise a family, I decided I wanted to go work for a department in a community that was diverse, a place where we could raise our children, where our children could respect and understand differences of race, creed and color. And you know what? We did that — right here in Twinsburg,” he said.

He then discussed how he and the department has been impacted by the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis, whose death spurred protests in cities nationwide, including Sunday’s demonstration in Twinsburg.

“This has been a very emotional two weeks for me,” he continued. “I’ve been angry, I’ve been sad, I’ve shed some tears, but never in a million years did I expect to see somebody who wore a badge like mine, who took an oath to protect and serve, to murder somebody. It shocked me and it shocked members of my department because that’s not how we police here. We don’t stand for that, we’ll never stand for that, because that’s not who we are. We’re not separate from you, we’re part of you.

“Policing in the United States, it’s an honorable profession, if you do the right thing,” he added.

Twinsburg Board of Education President Mark Curtis also spoke.

“I am in a position to be a representative of the black community and to be a representative of our school board, to be a leader in this community and to be a voice for those that are not heard,” he said. “I want you to know that we do care and we are very intentional in the things that we do to show that.”

He referred to a statement he and Superintendent Kathryn Powers released earlier last week.

That statement, in part, said, “To all of our students and families directly impacted by racism, we want to say that you are seen, you are heard, and we stand beside you today and always.

”There is no doubt that the events of the past week have caused great pain that is weighing heavily on the hearts and minds of our students, of our families, and of our staff members. As a safe and supportive school community, we value everyone and believe that our differences make us stronger and more resilient. Let us stand in solidarity against any and all acts of racism, disrespect, and inequitable treatment.”

Curtis told the crowd, “We hear you, and we see you and we promise to do better. We must do better.”

Eric Marotta can be reached at emarotta@recordpub.com