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Why We March: Entrepreneurship program exec says demonstrations are long overdue

This article originally appeared in the Boston Business Journal on June 12, 2020 and was written by Shafaq Patel 

Marynee Pontes, the lead program coordinator at Boston-based entrepreneurship nonprofit Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, was hesitant to participate in the protests at first. Pontes, 26, who is also a board member for Strong Women, Strong Girls, a nonprofit that empowers young girls in under-resourced communities, had to consider the pandemic as well as potential violence erupting. But after friends told her they were going to attend the peaceful march from Nubian Square to the State House, she says it was clear to her that she had to be there. Pontes recently spoke to Business Journal contributing writer Shafaq Patel about why she felt moved to participate in the demonstration and what these protests mean to her.

“Obviously, I was quite concerned about going to the protest, given that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. But for me, I thought it was important to attend and offer my own solidarity. I think the protests symbolize decades of systemic oppression.

“Seeing the protests across the country, seeing the movement that has been garnered, and seeing how it’s captured the media’s attention, is one of the reasons why I decided to protest. I also knew that it was going to be a peaceful protest, so that calmed my fears because obviously one of the biggest things that you’re seeing in the media about the protests is just, once again, the police brutality. It’s kind of ironic, given that’s exactly what we’re protesting and that’s what’s happening at those moments.

“I’m happy I did it. It was really empowering just to see the Boston community come together. There was an especially heartwarming moment when we walked past the (Boston) Medical Center, and you could see all the nurses there. And once again, it brings light to the actual pandemic that we’re going through. Just being able to see that solidarity—a lot of the nurses there were supporting us. You could see that they were cheering us on and clapping for us as well as us clapping for them. So I think overall, it was an extremely uplifting and positive experience.

“The issue of police brutality, in a way, is its own pandemic. I mean, we’re able to hear about the stories of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, but there are still countless others we aren’t able to know of. This is still happening on a daily basis. And I think it’s important for us as a country to come together in reckon with this truth. I think, oftentimes, people have been treating police brutality and these murders as isolated situations — the result of just one bad cop. More often, what’s happening is that the person who’s actually murdered is being put on trial and their humanity is being questioned. “There are things we can be putting in place. This is long overdue. I think when Trayvon Martin was killed, that should have raised a concern, and we should have realized we’re in a broken system that needs to be fixed. The same thing with gun control. When Sandy Hook happened, that should have been a catalyst to say we need serious gun control. I think the purpose of these protests is to bring light to this issue and to urge policymakers and politicians to take actual action to reform the current police structure and reform their trainings and how they use excessive force and the different policies, as well as really reckon with the history that America has with the Black community and with communities of color. Because while obviously the focus is on the Black community, this is an issue that we often also see across communities of color.

“It’s also important that as a country, we realize we are not in a post-racial society — there are still a lot of challenges and hurdles for people of color and that white supremacy is thoroughly manifested in this country. It’s important for us to recognize that, then actually put in policies and procedures meant to uplift the communities of color, especially the Black community, rather than continue to marginalize and oppress them.

“It’s interesting to see the responses from different people right now. While it’s positive that a lot of companies and organizations are coming and offering their support and seeking in solidarity, we also know that many of these organizations still have racist policies, still lack diversity at all levels, and still oftentimes are most likely silencing their Black employees or their employees of color. What I urge is that all those organizations that are offering their statements of solidarity, within the next few weeks, that they announce how they are planning to fully address the issue, both internally as well as using their platform to continue to push other organizations to take more immediate measures.

“The protests are needed, because communities of color, especially the Black community has advocated and tried on multiple platforms and multiple ways to advocate that the country has the dark history that needs to be recognized and move forward from. They’ve tried to speak so much on the issue of police brutality. And as we’ve seen, very little has been done. So I am of the opinion that until actual change is taken, not just some small concessions, by the policymakers and politicians, I hope that the protests continue. Because people are now starting to respond and take some efforts. And if that’s what it takes, then, in a way, that’s what we need to continue to happen.”

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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