OLEAN — The Olean Racial Justice Coalition held a Justice Rally in Lincoln Park, drawing about 60 local residents on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Organized by Leo Wolters Tejera and others with the Olean Racial Justice Coalition (BLM) Group, the Justice Rally was themed “Small town activism: the intersection of race, poverty, and trauma.”
The event featured family activities information tables presented by representatives from SNAP, Connecting Communities in Action (CCA), Ola Mae Gayton with Race Unity Circle of Olean, LawNY and a voter registration table for New York state and Pennsylvania voters with volunteers supporting the Democratic ticket of presidential candidate Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris.
The Olean Fire Department was in attendance with information on how to connect with the fire department as well as educational materials.
Della Moore, executive director of the African American Center for Cultural Development, was there to provide information on the center and to remind people of their fundraising efforts.
Big Bossman’s BBQ food truck was at the park, with a steady line of diners.
“We have some real rock stars in the social justice arena right in our town and our county,” Wolters Tejera said in introduction. Starting things off was an update on police reform efforts in the Olean area.
Keynote speakers included Tina Zerbian, CEO, and Breanne Abbott, trauma therapist, both with Connecting Communities in Action.
Abbott shared that at first she was nervous about speaking. She’s not a person of color. She’s not an expert on all things related to trauma. She’s not published or a researcher. She soon realized she had the privilege of her education and knowledge to talk about healing.
“What I learned is when people of all backgrounds, ethnicities or genders raise ideas and topics outside of their own narrowminded scope, to propel us as individuals and as a country,” she said.
Zerbian said in her keynote speech, that “when we open ourselves to change, we find change within ourselves,” speaking of the importance of bridges in our lives. “Wishing everyone peace and belonging.”
A panel discussion included local social justice activists, nonprofit professionals and minority community members, including Christa Wentworth, ELCA seminarian; Tasha Pascucci and Samantha Hittle, ORJC members; and Jessica Anderson, an attorney with LawNY.
Anderson spoke about justice for poorer citizens and how LawNY can help those who are in having their civil rights violated, are in danger of eviction or entangled with Child Protective Services.
Wentworth spoke about churches needing to have voices in social matters, and reminded the crowd of what she considers the most important commandment, “Love our neighbors as ourselves.”
“This is about a safe environment,” Hittle said. “For not only our children, but everybody’s child.”
Pascucci spoke of feeling “morally connected to ORJC,” having two bi-racial sons. “I know we can be here for change,” she said.
Participants, both onsite and online, were asked on social media what questions and/or topics they would want the panel to respond to. On Facebook, Ashlyn Burt wanted to know how to “educate those who ‘don’t see,’ or choose not to see, racism.”
To start the conversation, OJRC asked what it would take to begin “a plan to directly encourage the upcoming generations to take the initiative to start the conversation? With family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, upper management?”
ORJC, which, according to its Facebook page, exists to support the Black Lives Matter Movement, “and will continue to hold events to expand our knowledge, inspire young minds and make real changes for our future. Together we join as a community to face the world of injustices and fix our system.”