Pelham - Stand With Me
By Tori Bowser, 2013 Graduate and 3rd Generation Pelham Resident
Pelham has never been built on the ideology of racism. The division of water fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, and movie theaters, was not existent in the 50’s or 60’s here in the Village of Pelham. We GREW into racism in Pelham.
In 1964 our town was hurt by the death of Michael Schwerner, a PMHS graduate like myself, who died in Mississippi at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, when he travelled down to help African American’s earn their right to vote. This community did not take his death lightly and his name sits right up there on the street sign at the corner of Harmon, for generations to see and to learn about.
However, we do not have signs of the millions of Black Americans who risked their lives for the same. Who endured years of watching their homes burn, their business burn, and their community centers burn because of their skin. Who died in the streets when all they were asking for, was to be loved. Whose voices were muted and continue to endure the hardships of the systemic racism that is engrained so deep into our subconscious.
I am a product of Pelham.
Not just in the simple fact I have lived here my entire life, but a product of its value’s and what it stands for: love your neighbor. But, I am also a product of instances of unconscious, subliminal, but also outright racism as a black woman in this town.
The reason that we are in a time of outrage, is because for decades we have endured pain amongst our neighbors — who did not love us. We have been the victims of harassment, profiling, threats, violence and side comments that lurk in the broken cracks of our community. We have all once in our lives here in Pelham heard to “stay away from the edges” of town. We have seen the seclusion of our black community members to only live in a “certain” part of town. We have seen the small amount of melanin walk our halls, and no notion to make the minority feel like they are an inclusion of the majority. We have heard accepted, ignorant, and completely unprovoked racist comments made about our hair, our culture, our “articulation”, our dress, our groups and overall who we represent in the eyes of this country: the enemy.
We have been a part of our community, but large pieces of our community have not looked to us as a part of them. Even amongst the masses of my white and non-black friends, neighbors, classmates and teammates, I still have experienced discrimination within our streets. I have had my car surrounded in Pelham Manor when going to pick up my friend, simply just for being there and being black. A traumatizing moment of not knowing what would happen to me and one I’ll never forget. I have shed tears at the idea of my brother walking home from school and the question of: could he be killed walking on First Ave because someone may think he’s “from Mt. Vernon’’? To tell him to endure the cold, the rain, the sleet and the snow without a hood on or a hat, so that he doesn’t get killed by accident?
I have spoken these words before, but for a very large number of people in this community, the fear of what can happen to them during these protests and these riots, is the exact feeling — that not only my family feels but ALL of the black families in Pelham— feel every day about their loved ones not coming home. I have been blessed to have grown with a group of amazing white friends in my life, who have loved me, cared for me, and been there for me from Pelham. But even then, they have said ignorant things to me as “jokes” or because I’m “not really black black so it’s okay”, while we were kids.
There are comments that have permanently remained in my memories, and have dictated my anxieties, sense of self and sense of worth in this country for far too long. That has made me and many other POC feel as if we are not cared about by our teachers, police officers, firefighters, store owners, friends and neighbors, at the level we deserve to be cared about.
I do not want my children to feel the same.
I have walked, driven, biked, and played on the sidewalks of 5th Ave, the streets of Wolf’s Lane, and the fields of Franklin.
I have stood on the black top of Hutch and in the classrooms learning from Mr. Bloom, being healed in the nurse’s office by Mrs. Burpee, and at Rec Camp with my white friends and non black friends.
I shared laughs, hugs, and tears at middle school graduation, The dinner dance, and on our Sharpe trip with my white friends and non black friends.
I stood with my high school classmates during the Olympics, the Senior Talent Show, and in celebration as we walked across the stage at graduation.
We’ve won State Titles together. We’ve stayed up all night at Glover Field together to support Relay for Life, who Mr. Glover was even my neighbor.
But the biggest thing from all of this: I was always going to be different. I was not just going to be seen as just little Tori with a big smile, but as black Tori. A teammate, a student, a friend, a neighbor, a classmate, a babysitter, or even to the older generations just “Donna’s kid”, but none of that was going to ever stop anyone from judging me — consciously or unconsciously — because I was black. But to me? I never saw my peers as anything other than my friends, my neighbors, fellow DeCicco’s shopper, my classmate, and my overall family.
Even with the love I have experienced here, there was— and still are— plenty of hardships, discrimination, and biases that I faced at the hands of the world around me every day, that can be directly correlated to the comments that were made within the halls of PMHS, the streets of 5th Ave, and the homes of some of my white friends or strangers. Some of which was unknown ignorance, or uninformed opinions from our inability to experience a lot of the real cold world outside of our loving bubble here in Pelham. To not really understand it and to not really have uncomfortable conversations about racism out in the open.
I have spoken with so many of my fellow Pelham community members in the past few days on how they can help , how we can be better, how WE can help show the world how to heal and continue to heal for generations to come. I have seen so many posts, comments, stories, and videos speaking about this issue of Black Lives Matter, who are of all different colors that walk this earth— but LIVE in Pelham. There has been so much love, listening, and learning going around on the online social corners of Pelham, and I want to bring that to the same streets that have continued to raise me, support me, and love me. With the understanding that we do not wish to cause harm to the many places that have helped protect me, cheered for me, and supported me to become the black woman I am today and many of the black men who grew up here as well — but acknowledge the ones that have also at moments, tore me down.
We want you — our educators, protectors and legislators — to march with us. sit with us. hear us and learn from us.
I ask for the opportunity for a peaceful, and informative march and forum on the steps of town hall— to bring the discussion and perspective of not what just the People of Color face around the country, but what the People of Color that you know, sat with, played with, learned with, and grew with have faced here in Pelham. To further bring those traumas, issues and these uncomfortable conversations about blind/ direct racism out of the darkness and into the light. To walk down the streets together, in unison. To hear how we can CHANGE. Hear what we need from YOU. For those to come and open their hearts, ears, and minds to the pain and obstacles that WE face every day. To hear the voices of not only myself but other black members of the community, and non-black allies that stand behind me and our thoughts. To continue the dialogue in a community that has not always wanted the discussion.
Because we, the black people of Pelham, are not just citizens of this country or residents of this town, we are teammates, classmates, police officers, firefighters, teachers, store owners, coaches, babysitters, camp counselors, neighbors, friends, and family.
So please Pelham: See Me. Hear Me. Love Me. — Stand With Me.