Friday, hundreds of area residents marched for change.
"This is indicative of what we are seeing across the country now days — people turning out, especially young people, who are the future leaders of this country of ours," said Richard Jackson. "It’s never wrong to stand up for what you believe in. You can’t go wrong with doing what is right."
Jackson, civil rights activist and former Ottawa city mayor, was one in a lineup of speakers commemorating the first annual Black Lives Matter Peaceful Rally, hosted in Ottawa’s City Park. The event was intentionally hosted on Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the 1865 emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.
Escorted by Ottawa police officers, participants chanted and and displayed signs while marching from the Carnegie Cultural Center to the city park gazebo. Participants then listened to a range of speakers discuss different aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, ranging from Ottawa native Lacey Nicole Knight, founder of Calypso Clues in Kansas City, to Adam Weingartner, city of Ottawa police chief.
Knight lauded her home community for peacefully organizing a rally.
"The point of this is to unite everyone, and you are doing that. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in months," Knight said. "Black lives matter, and I want you all to know how appreciative I am that you care, even though the issues might not be at your front doorstep. It means a lot."
Weingartner affirmed his department’s commitment to best law enforcement practices, highlighting the department’s historic commitment to Commission for Accrediting Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) guidelines and recent "Police and the Community panel discussion," project.
"Today, we meet head on the challenges being highlighted between the police and the community," he said. "There are several conversations happening around the country regarding police reform. I’m proud to say this department has been practicing many of those ideas for decades. As a CALEA-accredited police department, many of these suggested reforms have been required by CALEA for years. I’m confident as more conversations take place, additional changes will become requirements that this department will meet — and exceed."
Weingarter also announced a capital campaign to purchase a law enforcement simulator training machine.
"This training machine will allow us to give the best de-escalation training that we can to our officers," he said.
The event was conceived and organized by two area youths, Natalie Maxhimer-Rodriguez and Lillie Durrie.
"With all of the protests and rallies going on across the country, we thought it would be a good time to use our platform to that happen in Ottawa," Maxhimer-Rodriguez said. "We decided we should do more for the community."
The duo spent an intense two weeks organizing the rally, working closely with City of Ottawa officials and authorities.
"We were going to organize it independently, but we realized it would be easier if we sought guidance from the city and police department, to make sure everyone is safe," Durrie said. "We worked with them from the get-go."
The movement has garnered its share of supporters and detractors in the community, the organizes said.
"We’ve gotten a lot of support in organizing the event," Maxhimer-Rodriguez said. "Those that are not supportive are very loud about their lack of support, but that won’t stop us from doing what we want to do. It only proves that what we want to do is necessary now more than ever."
Maxhimer-Rodriguez and Durrie reiterated their goals of positive change and education.
"The last thing we want to do is divide the community — we want to bring everyone together," Maxhimer-Rodriguez said. "We hope people leave with a better idea of what racism looks like. A lot of people don’t think it happens, or are oblivious to it. It’s important to realize that, even in our small town, it happens. We have a diverse population, especially with Ottawa University, and it’s important those people feel welcome regardless of their skin color.
"It’s our job to welcome them in."