Column: Time for a change

Change starts small. It starts with one family member talking to another, a friend talking to a friend, a co-worker talking to a co-worker. Our community is small, but change starts small.

It’s no secret that Shelter Island lacks diversity. Many people in our community, including myself, have failed to recognize our privileges. On a national scale, America has failed its black citizens. Over and over, this country has discriminated against them and sat by as they have cried out for justice.

The first slaves arrived in America over 400 years ago. Since 1619, black people have never been treated equally. Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, economic inequality, real estate redlining, inept medical treatment, lack of health care, insurance inequality, underfunded schools, racial discrimination, mass incarceration and a multitude of other issues, have disproportionately hurt black communities and killed black people.

The fight against racism has been constant. But racism needs to end now. There is extraordinary depth to black history in this country and we need to learn it and celebrate the many contributions of our fellow citizens. Discrimination didn’t end when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation or when Martin Luther King Jr. said he had a dream. Black citizens are still waiting for that dream to come true, almost 57 years later.

If you have been to Sylvester Manor or studied Shelter Island’s past, you know our island has a history of slavery. Now, our lack of diversity represents the truth of many parts of Long Island and America. Discrimination in many forms has left communities with unequal distribution of resources.

This is symbolic of the systemic racism that has persisted for hundreds of years. Even if all police brutality ends, there are so many other areas of our country that need complete reform in order to wholly and truly provide equal rights for all.

Equal rights are promised to all citizens in the Constitution. This should not be an argument, but somehow it is. This is not political. It’s about treating all citizens equally and making lives better. This is anti-racists against racists. This is an issue of basic human rights, of life and death.

The protest Sunday is happening because there are still people unwilling to say “black lives matter.” It is happening because we will hear and listen to the black people in our community, across America, and around the world. It is happening because in order to end police brutality and systemic racism, we all need to be actively anti-racist and call each other out when we’re wrong.

We hope people will take the energy from this event on our small island and continue to spread it so it sparks a desire to learn and engage in uncomfortable conversations.

Nothing about this should feel comfortable. America has failed and we have to acknowledge that and work to change so we no longer discriminate. Black people deserve to live their lives without fear of dying due to their skin color. Every human being deserves kindness, happiness, love and respect.

Our protest will be peaceful because we want to spread love and acceptance. We know all lives matter, but our message is that black lives matter. And until black lives matter, and all people are treated equally, all lives do not matter.

There are many people involved in organizing this event. I had mentioned having a protest on the Island to a few of my friends after going to protests elsewhere.

We would see other Islanders at these protests, or see people expressing their concerns on social media, and could tell they would be interested in helping. I simply put the group chat together and the rest has all been collaboration among about 30 people.

So, please meet us at the school on June 14 at 1 p.m. Bring masks, energy, friends, questions and an open mind. Come join this peaceful protest, and together make history and genuine change. We look forward to seeing you there and appreciate the support of this community.

Emma Gallagher is the valedictorian of the Shelter Island High School Class of 2020.