Lilly Bohner speaks to other protesters during a Black Lives Matter protest June 16, 2020, at City Hall in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

After reading an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Lilly Bohner, 21, connected King’s ideas to goals of the Black Lives Matter movement that she participated in throughout the summer.

More than 50 years later, while some barriers have been broken, equality still hasn’t been achieved, she said. The rhetoric around racial justice is as prevalent today as it was in 1963.

“Even though it’s supposed to be equal, we know it’s not. Racism isn’t over,” Bohner said. “White privilege is a thing, and you can’t deny it now.”

Bohner recalled the years she spent living in central Maine and the encounters she’s had, including being called racial slurs and being told to “go back to your country.” A 2017 graduate of Waterville Senior High School, Bohner took to the streets of Winslow in June to support and speak at a Black Lives Matter march through town and advocate for changes in law enforcement. She moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, two months ago.

Bohner said Thursday that she felt inspired to organize the demonstration after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis when Derek Chauvin, a police officer, kneeled on the back of his neck for almost nine minutes.

“When I first saw it, I bawled my eyes out. It was worse seeing people in my area seeing that and saying things like ‘(Floyd) deserved it’ because of his past. If he were white, it would have been completely different.”

In her frustration, she pulled together the march that went through Fort Halifax Park to Waterville City Hall. She participated in three demonstrations over the summer, including the one she organized, as well as Augusta and Rockland.

“Today we have to deal with racism, stereotypes, mass incarceration, cultural appropriation and police brutality. Just that in general should show that racism is not dead,” she said.

Though months have passed since the demonstrations, she said the reminder that white privilege exists became apparent during last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. She recalled the amount of law enforcement present during the Black Lives Matter events around the country and cited a Time magazine report stating that the vast majority — 93% — of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been peaceful.

“Education is everything. I don’t think the country can move forward if we don’t educate people on how Black people feel,” Bohner said. “If you don’t understand how Black people feel, then you’re not going to understand the movement and why we feel this way and what we’re doing.”

She is hopeful that with education, change can happen, though there is plenty of work to do in the meantime.

“Buildings can be replaced, but our lives can’t and we’re dying all the time,” Bohner said. “There are things that we need to work on, and we’re not going to be quiet until things actually, really change. To this day, we’re fighting.”

— Taylor Abbott, Morning Sentinel

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