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Organizers of Black Lives Matter protest in Lethbridge and race relations experts react to rally

Black Lives Matter Lethbridge organizer and race relations experts react to rally
Now that people have had time to digest what took place at the demonstration in Lethbridge, Taz Dhaliwal reaches out to those who organized the event and local race relations experts to find out how the messages have resonated locally.

On Thursday, around 1,000 people gathered to conduct a peaceful protest against racism in front of city hall in Lethbridge, Alta.

Similar Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protests have been taking place across the world as people gather in solidarity to voice their frustration, following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old U.S. Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minn., police custody on May 25.

A day after the protest, Global News reached out to the organizers of the event to get their thoughts on the outcome of the rally.

The protest was organized by Lethbridge’s Group United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD).

“I do believe the response was quite overwhelming and it was amazing to see so much support for our message,” said organizer Jordan Ledyit.

READ MORE: Over 1,000 people gather for Black Lives Matter protest in Lethbridge

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Ledyit is one of a handful of organizers from GUARD who put the Black Lives Matter protest together in a matter of just two days.

“In light of the recent developments, we recognize the underlying issue at hand is a systemic one,” GUARD said in a Facebook post.

“A system that was built on white supremacy that has sought to marginalize the lives and voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).

“We might want to believe this systemic issue is only present in the United States or other parts of the world, but the daily experiences of BIPOC individuals here in Canada and in Lethbridge shows otherwise. It is time we stopped turning a blind eye to these issues and speak up.”

Her co-organizer says the support shown at the protest is unlike anything she’s ever experienced before.

“It was very overwhelming as a good thing, just knowing so many people support this common cause and fight against the issues we deal with on a daily basis being people of colour, that they want to end racism as well,” said Legacy McAdam, an organizer from GUARD.

“It was just so overpowering and emotional.”

As a First Nations woman, McAdam says she’s had her own experiences with racism on a regular basis and says she is proud to stand in solidarity with other BIPOC.

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Ledyit says the pain and anguish BIPOC feel from racism is not a trend for people to suddenly start following. Instead, she says concrete action needs to be taken in order to fight against systematic discrimination and oppression.

“First of all, our government officials hear us and do something,” Ledyit said.

She goes on to say that GUARD would like to focus their activism efforts on bringing about change in policing tactics in Lethbridge, by pushing for more training to help fight against biases police officers may have when interacting with marginalized individuals.

Ledyit adds the group recognizes the diverse set of challenges the community faces, including barriers that people will disabilities come across.

Ibrahim Turay, who teaches in the Lethbridge College’s School of Justice, says the diverse and large turnout at the protest helps BIPOC in the community feel heard and seen.

“It is significant because the small population of Black people that call Lethbridge home will know that they have the support of the Lethbridge people behind them, to stand with them,” Turay noted.

Turay recently collaborated with Jason Laurendeau, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Lethbridge on an article about investing in, rather than policing communities.

Turay goes on to say that people must not think Lethbridge and southern Alberta are immune to acts of racism and injustice — another reason why this local protest holds significance and is meaningful to residents who attended and took part.

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READ MORE: Thousands march through Calgary streets in anti-police violence, anti-racism rally

The topic of racism not just being an issue in the United States was a common theme on Thursday, as well, with the crowd repeatedly chanting “it happens here, too.”

Laurendeau says this may be the biggest protest Lethbridge has ever witnessed.

“It’s the best turnout I’ve ever seen and I’ve heard that from a number of other folks who have been to many rallies, many protests, many vigils,” he said.

Laurendeau also notes that this movement is one that is echoing cries for proactive change in various communities across the nation.

“It seems to be a really important moment that is not only unfolding in the major cities of Canada, but is unfolding in smaller communities as well.”

— With files from Global News’ Danica Ferris