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Rally rolls into march and picks up steam as hundreds turn out in Woodburn to support Black Lives Matter

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Black Lives Matter Woodburn march had a full head of steam by the time it reached downtown on Friday, June 12, 2020.After you stage a successful rally, it takes a while to wind down.

That's what 2016 Woodburn High School graduates Arzel Duarte and Khaya Mathis discovered during the weekend after leading hundreds of Black Lives Matter supporters through the streets of Woodburn, from Centennial Park to city hall to the high school and back.

"We went to sleep at like around 3 a.m.. It took us that long to be, like, 'OK, we did it,'" Khaya said Saturday morning.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Khaya Mathis, who teamed up with Arzel Duarte to organize Black Lives Matter Woodburn, addresses the crowd at the rallys onset in Centennial Park Friday, June 12, 2020.

The well-coordinated Black Lives Matter Woodburn rally provided spirited moments Friday evening, including an 8-minute, 46-second kneeling at city hall in remembrance of George Floyd, who lost his life when a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for that amount of time.

Remembering Floyd and others who have had ill-fated and deadly encounters with law enforcement nationwide was the focal point of the rally.

The orator slate at the rally's onset in Centennial Park included several African Americans.

In addition to Khaya, speakers included her sister, Jezelle Mathis, who delivered a moving poem, "My black is beautiful," that was translated into Spanish by Woodburn City Councilor Debbie Cabrales.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Jezelle Mathis, left, recites her poem My black is beautiful, with Woodburn City Councilor Debbie Cabrales interpreting it in Spanish at Centennial Park during the Black Lives Matter Woodburn protest rally and march Friday, June 12, 2020

In a heart-wrenching oratory, Adrianna Becker recited Floyd's last words:

"It's my face man. I don't do nothing, seriously man, please, please, please I can't breathe. Please man, I can't breathe. I can't breathe. Please, man, I can't breathe. My face, just get up, I can't breathe. Please, I can't breathe s***, I will, I can't move, mamma, mamma. I can't, my knee, my nuts, I'm through. I'm claustrophobic. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. Some water or something, please, please, I can't breathe officer. Don't kill me! They gon' kill me, man. Come on man, I can't breathe. They gonna kill me. I can't breathe. Please sir, please, please. I can't breathe."

Portland's REAP organization CEO Levell Thomas and REAP ambassadors Chauncy Reddix, Anderson DuBois, Chad Boyd and Brian Odom, along with poet Robert White, all shared deep, personal sentiments with the crowd.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - A poignant scene at Woodburn City Hall Friday, June 12, when protest marchers knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in remembrance of George Floyd, who lost his life when a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for the same amount of time.

"For me, the number-one thing that stood out was having the black speakers. They really inspired everyone, and I think it really opened everyone's eyes," Khaya said. "Hearing the truth; hearing the pain; hearing the suffering that blacks have to go through daily."

The crowd was primarily younger and Latino, but overall, there was a broad mix of races and ages.

"I think what meant most to me was it was nice to see the Latino community being there, supporting everything," said Arzel, who just completed her degree in sociology and psychology at the University of Oregon this spring. "To see my people come together with my friends' people — it's just really nice to see that unity."

That unity appeared seamless throughout, but it was not accomplished without serious focus and some toil. Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson delivered a bilingual tribute to unity and the power of protest at city hall, while also acknowledging the diligent efforts of the organizers.

The mayor, a former educator in the Woodburn School District, said: "It was inspiring to see two former students initiate and plan such a well organized event."

Following the event's Centennial oratories, the march commenced down Parr Road, and it appeared to pick up support along the route.

"A lot of people would see us and run in from their houses to show support. People (along the route) were really supportive," Arzel observed.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Black Lives Matter Woodburn march had a full head of steam by the time it reached downtown on Friday, June 12, 2020.

"I think there were two anti-protesters doing their own thing, but they were pretty controlled didn't cause any problems," she added. "It felt really good to come back to Centennial and say 'Wow, we just did that.'"

Arzel said the support of the downtown businesses, many of which posted Black Lives Matter signs in their windows, was inspiring.

"Downtown is like a little Mexico, and seeing the message of unity was really powerful," she said.

The scenario warmed the organizers, who were a tad overwhelmed.

"We were in shock, in a way," Khaya said.

"A lot of people doubted us. They doubted what we were trying to have in Woodburn," she continued. "We just proved (the character of) the community. None of that (feared negative repercussions) happened. Working together with the community, working with the police, and working with PCUN, and working with Mayor Swenson and particularly with the downtown businesses, we demonstrated a very, very supportive community."

The mayor agreed whole heartedly.

"I was moved watching hundreds of young people respectfully exercising their free speech in peaceful protest on a difficult issue that has plagued our world and our country," he said.

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Black Lives Matter Woodburn march had a full head of steam by the time it reached downtown on Friday, June 12, 2020.


My black is beautiful

My black is beautiful and

Tupac once said the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice,

the darker the flesh the deeper the roots

25 years ago and those words still speak truth

and still, my black is beautiful

My black has roamed this earth from the beginning of time

400 years of tears and tarnish

And when you think they're done they'll pick from the carnage

Like strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees as Billie Holiday once told it

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck

fast forward 2020 and those words still stuck

But still, my black is beautiful

My hair tells stories

My curls run wild

My melanin runs deep

These are the things that make the men weak

They swarm you see, the time has come

My black is so beautiful

My confidence screaming to the sky

This black queen you can't deny

It if takes all the thunder in my thighs

You will hear me cry. You will hear me roar

Together, we will walk through that door

United we will stand tall and proud we will be for our black is beautiful and finally, the world will see.

— Jezelle Mathis

Spanish Translation

Mi negro es hermoso y Tupac una vez dijo que cuanto más negro la baya el jugo más dulce,

cuanto más oscura sea la carne, más profundas son las raíces

Hace 25 años y esas palabras todavía dicen la verdad

y aun así mi negro es hermoso

Mi negro ha vagado por esta tierra desde el principio de los tiempos

400 años de lágrimas y empañamiento

Y cuando creas que han terminado, recogerán de la carnicería

Como fruta extraña colgando de los álamos como Billie Holiday una vez dijo

Aquí hay una fruta para que los cuervos saquen avance rápido 2020 y esas palabras todavía recordamos

Pero aun así mi negro es hermoso

Mi cabello cuenta historias Mis rizos corren salvajes

Mi melanina es profunda Estas son las cosas que debilitan a los hombres

Ellos enjambre ya ves, ha llegado el momento

Mi negro es tan hermoso

Mi confianza gritando al cielo

Esta reina negra que no puedes negar

Si toma todo el trueno en mis muslos

Me oirás llorar. Me oirás rugir

Juntos, entraremos por esa puerta

Unidos nos mantendremos y orgullosos estaremos

porque nuestro negro es hermoso y finalmente el mundo lo verá.

— Jezelle Mathis

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Black Lives Matter Woodburn march had a full head of steam by the time it reached downtown on Friday, June 12, 2020.

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