On June 4, 2020, the United States was in the midst of a civil rights protest that had spread to all fifty states and major cities around the world. The Memorial Day murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked outrage and a renewed push in the Black Lives Matter movement. Social media was also ablaze with calls for white America to finally admit that for 400 years, black lives have not mattered. Our nation was desperate for justice, and I was moved.
I started reading and listening to tons of suggested resources, and for the first time I began to really understand the meaning of Black Lives Matter.
I made a sign of support to put in front of my home. It felt like we were in the middle of a historic awakening, yet as I drove through my affluent white neighborhood in a suburb of Washington, DC, with its large houses and perfectly manicured lawns, new SUVs, and privately educated youth, I didn’t see other visual signs of support for this movement. I was outraged at the privileged silence of my community. Why weren’t people out in the streets calling for change? Why did it seem like absolutely nothing was wrong? Because in this neck of the woods, nothing was wrong.
Our neighborhood in Kensington, Maryland, was designed to be full of well-to-do white families, and we were happily tucked away in our safe little bubble of privileged oblivion. Yes, I said designed. Two years ago, my family bought our home in this quaint little suburb from its original owner, who had purchased the house in 1959. We were given the original deed along with all of the other documentation of ownership. On that deed, we saw the following:
Restriction number 1: The property herein conveyed cannot be sold to or rented to a negro or any one of the African Race.
Our neighborhood, the place we were living, was designed to be a white suburb.
I reached out to some friends and suggested that we take some kind of public action in our community—some type of demonstration of solidarity for the BLM movement. After thinking through their ideas, I decided that we should march through our town at 5pm on Saturday (June 6), the same day thousands of others were planning on marching in our nation’s capitol. It was 4:50pm on Thursday; I had exactly forty-eight hours to make it happen.
I’m a professional actor. I’ve never organized anything in my life. I am not tied into political circles, nor am I an activist. But someone had to do it.
I initially thought that a group of us would march up the central street from our neighborhood into the heart of town, but then I realized where that street led: directly to the neighboring community of Ken-Gar. Situated between Kensington and Garret Park, Ken-Gar is a historic black community, incorporated in 1892 by freed slaves and still the home to mostly black residents. I thought we might march up the one-and-a-half-mile hill and invite the residents of Ken-Gar to join us as we all marched on to the town hall together. The problem was that I only knew one family who lived in there. So, I drove up the road and started talking to residents who were outside.
I introduced myself and shared my idea for the march. I asked if the community would want to join us. I then asked for permission to bring the march through Ken-Gar. The residents were very receptive and gave me the number of the minister of the Baptist church located in the neighborhood so that I could speak with him about my idea. Rev. Hall was gracious enough to invite us to gather in the church parking lot, and he agreed to share some words. Another lifelong resident named John Hopkins also offered to speak to the marchers. Annie Henderson offered to pay for and organize a water station in front of her Ken-Gar home and insisted that I pick up at least 400 bottles. I told her that at that point, I only had around fifty interested participants, but she insisted and said that she had sent out emails to everyone she knew and that it was always better to take extra home than not have enough.
Well, Annie was right: we needed more than 400 bottles. As over 500 Kensington residents streamed into the community of Ken-Gar, something powerful happened: this black community that had always been the other, was now welcoming in throngs of white neighbors who were committing to do the work to learn about the black experience in America, committing to challenge their own comfortable perceptions and prejudices, and to make real strides toward equity in their own town. We stood in the parking lot together as one community. We marched together to Kensington Town Hall as neighbors. There I introduced the mayor and several city council members, state delegates, and country council members who spoke to the crowd. We also heard powerful words from Rev. Dr. Pat Allen, who acknowledged both those who believe in creation and those who believe in evolution. The remarks ended with a passionate address from a local high school student, a young black woman who spoke about her grandmother’s legacy and the challenges ahead.
This march was a powerful learning experience for many of the participants. It was a beautiful gesture, but it will not just be that. It is the beginning of facing our segregated community head on by continuing difficult conversations in our homes, our neighborhood, and with our neighbors in Ken-Gar. I have begun hosting casual conversation circles in our neighborhood to offer a place to process our thoughts and grow in our understanding. There are a few more signs of solidarity in windows. I intend to turn this spark into a fire so that one day we can confidentially say that Black Lives Matter in Kensington, Maryland.