Prep Students March in Support of Black Lives Matter

On Saturday, June 13, four members of Seton Hall Prep stood on Ridgedale Avenue in the village of Madison. Five were seniors, one a junior. They beckoned with signs, looked forward down the ranks, and stood at the call of the announcer. “We believe that blacks lives matter,” a voice cried out in the multitudes.

As readers may very well know, George Floyd’s untimely death has cast a disquieting shadow over the former calm of June. Though the pandemic hushed the conclusion to a seemingly “bottomless” school year, many of us viewed the next months as their own return to half-normalcy. Now, with the bass key of another murder still ringing aloft, students should be asking: What is my role in the annals of history? Last weekend, a group of discerning upperclassmen, two of whom write for The Pirate, partook in one such demonstration to confront the question. While protest marshalls donning reflective vests organized the lines, bird choirs sang aloud, and the sun gleamed anyway. In fact, this particular Saturday afternoon could have been conjured from any page in Madison’s charmed past. Similar to most Morris burgs, the town draws from its own little-known but always passionate vein of colonial lore. Down the road from the protest’s start (Madison High), a railroad village with a town hall gifted by a Rockefeller heir stands proudly. Yet on the thirteenth, sunny and perfectly accoutered, the area’s Rockwellian twee seemed to grow a little bit stale. The marchers, mostly white and led by members of a larger coalition–Black Lives Matter Morristown–stepped off Board of Education property and onto the event’s main, north-south artery: Ridgedale. Though not akin to the mass-like state of Pirate Nation, Seton Hall Prep’s student body could be targeted in three or so sets of two. Jayson Caguana ‘21 had driven up from Newark with his sister, a Lehigh grad only this year. In the near vicinity strode others like Gabe Ferriero ‘21, Rhys Williams ‘21, Nick Rauschenberger ‘20, T.J. Martynowicz ‘20, and serial Pirate editorialist Ronak Shetty ‘22. Perhaps the most symbolic figure was found in Luke Incardona ‘21, a stalwart senior whose very father is the head of SHP’s academic affairs. So the afternoon moved on. As hundreds pounded the pavement, they lifted signs bearing stark phrases such as “No justice, no peace” and more pointedly, “Racist cops have got to go.” Movement and unity poured out like a stream.

 Still, one could not but wince at the jolting irony between a river of black and white and the banks of suburban America. From barricaded side streets, elderly residents in sunglasses looked up–many others looked on. Protests and civil disobedience often strike an image of the city, of boarded-up brick edifices and weedy parking lots. On the other hand, this demonstration had pushed its pictorial frame past the grassy lawn of Ridgedale Middle School. Flanked by marchers in red bandannas, Ronak Shetty raised his cellphone, hit the record button, and scanned the breadth of the scene. Twilight would soon fall. At a quarter to seven, the many rows of demonstrators reached their designated end point: the Florham Park Gazebo. What had just been a rolling, human trail lost form before a vast field dedicated, typically, to the likes of the municipal concert series. In part two of the march, organizers had planned a “teach-in” on racism’s place in America as well as the modern hypocrisy plaguing even progressive attitudes. For an hour and a half, local black preachers, teachers, and most importantly, students, stood upon the gazebo educating masses of seated onlookers. In another time, the antique wooden frame of the former would have invoked a quaint antebellum air. This evening played slightly differently; no one was allowed to romanticize the past. 

Being one of the most repeated phrases of this movement, “Black Lives Matter” soon adopted a poetic meaning despite the loud and terse nature of the actual chants. Clearly, the harsh, one-two tone of protest has sometimes been viewed as frightening and even unpalatable to the average American. Notwithstanding, all present in Florham Park were able to expose themselves to the more striking significance behind the aforesaid line. Aside from mindlessly uttering “Black Lives Matter,” the crowd began to consciously deconstruct the individual words. Here, embedded in a mass of 1000 and given the chance to speak, one tends to adjust his viewpoints, and, at least on this day, Prep students reaffirmed that no man’s suffering can truly be divorced from his counterpart’s. At the end of the ceremony–nearly dusk–throngs of mostly teenagers escorted by police walked the twisty, barren road home. Under a chilly darkness, the flashing appearance of crowd control likened the affair to the close of a July 4th fireworks display, but the people’s mindset held fast nonetheless: Keep clutching each sign, even through the quiet of sleepy neighborhoods.

As a difficult spring bleeds into a long summer, one may recall another voice whose hushed comment is oft repeated to both praise and cynicism. Thomas Jefferson, believing that a restless, young republic could not sustain itself without fiery rural spirits, suggested that one might only survive if a “little rebellion” were to erupt now and then. Today, against the gritty backdrop of a struggle on race, communities across the nation wonder how civil that rebellion should be. Truthfully, a black man’s murder did not always stir the ranks of a nation-wide populace as fervently as the present day. Neither did the requisite shock absent within the century’s first decade match that developing at the dawn of the second. Something immovable has been nudged. We must also recognize, however, that a nudge merely punctures the moment. Only a vested interest among all races can propel change down the rails.