Hundreds gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven on Friday afternoon to participate in a march for racial justice and equality, organized in honor of June 19 (Juneteenth) — the day which marks the official end of slavery in the United States.

The march traveled from Vineyard Haven to Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs and culminated in speeches by students, activists and educators. The event was organized by 15-year-old regional high school student Graysen Kirk with the help of community members Kiely Rigali and Lisette Williams. Ms. Kirk also organized the June 1 protest at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven with the aid of her former teacher Mathea Morais.

“The vision [for this event] started after the protest on June 1,” Ms. Kirk said after the rally. “I just felt like I needed to do more in the community.”

From Veterans Park to Ocean Park, marchers kept the energy up with signs and chants. — Jeanna Shepard

Ms. Kirk worked closely with Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs police forces in preparation for the event, ensuring a safe and peaceful protest. Police officers helped direct traffic at multiple checkpoints along the lengthy walk, and handed out masks and water bottles to those in need. The event was peaceful with very little disruption, with the exception of a passing car of counter protestors shouting blue lives matter during the march.

According to Ms. Kirk, the march aimed to unify the Island community while also showing support for protests around the country.

“My goals really were to keep people aware and to educate people,” she said.

The organizers sold Black Lives Matter T-shirts as well as water and refreshments at the start of the march, with concession proceeds going to the NAACP and various bail funds.

Organizer Graysen Kirk speaks to the crowd gathered at Ocean Park. — Jeanna Shepard

The march, and subsequent speeches, saw a sizeable turnout of both Islanders and visitors from all walks of life — from families, to school children with homemade signs, to adults and elderly couples.

Along the route, members of the Island community cheered on the marchers. Business owners stood in the doorways of their stores and medical workers at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital waited in front of the hospital to stand with the marchers. Many passing cars honked in solidarity.

Shane Merriweather, 36, traveled from Nantucket to take part in the event. He emphasized the importance of addressing social issues even while away from the action of metropolitan areas.

“It’s not just in cities but it’s here as we go to vacation for the summer in rural America, change needs to be enacted everywhere,” he said.

Mr. Merriweather also expressed hope that, in the wake of the defacement of the African meetinghouse on Nantucket a few years ago, protests and gatherings like Friday’s would make their way to Nantucket as well.

Jordan Cobb, 25, whose family has spent summers on the Island since her father was a child, echoed this sentiment.

Amber Henry, whose brother DJ Henry was killed by police, tells her story. — Jeanna Shepard

“Racism is everywhere, even when it’s silent it’s still very pervasive,” she said. “We can’t just come here to hide, [we] still exist within this world and we have to take care of one another. Because if we don’t take care of one another, who will?”

Many participants expressed their appreciation for the young marchers and organizers.

“You know, the old timers are on their way out and the new folks are coming in, and I believe that it is changed [and] it is good for all people,” said Cheryl Hall 62, who has a vacation home on the Island.

James W. Jennings, an educator at the regional high school, echoed his appreciation for the younger participants in his speech at Ocean Park.

“I will speak directly to the youth, to my young-ins out there, the all-stars, clearly the leaders, clearly no question,” he said. “You want to know why they’re the leaders? Because they got courage.”

Speakers touched on a range of topics including police brutality, indigenous and native lands and the symbolism of Juneteenth. Many speakers spoke from personal experiences and reminded listeners that the Island community is not exempt from prejudice.

Crowd remained at Ocean Park throughout the afternoon, listening to the speakers. — Jeanna Shepard

“Every year we recognize that we are still fighting for freedom,” said Danielle Hopkins, who helped organize last Sunday’s event at Waban Park. “Freedom from the racist systems and anti-blackness that governs our country, even on an Island as interconnected and personal as Martha’s vineyard these sentiments still exist because the systems that uphold this country were rooted and created in anti-blackness. This country has been in a constant battle with itself since its inception.”

“We can protest, we can speak, but the real action starts after this,” Amber Henry said to the crowd.

Ms. Kirk agreed that the real action is yet to come. She is already planning a vigil in July, and is working with other students and activists to create an umbrella organization to unite the many organizations and groups already at work on the Island.

“It will take a lot of unity, a lot of voices, a lot of work, a lot of struggle, a lot of time,” Ms. Kirk said in her speech. “Coming to this march doesn’t make you done, this is an ongoing struggle. We cannot stop fighting until racism is finally and forever on the ash heap of history.”

More pictures.