Nearly a dozen people spoke to a large crowd of mostly young people at St. Helena’s Jacob Meily Park on June 2, calling for continuing the fight against racism and police brutality.
The crowd, chanting slogans and carrying signs with messages like “Black Lives Matter,” marched peacefully through the downtown, going to Lyman Park and Vintage Hall.
One of the event organizers was Christian Maldonado, who grew up in St. Helena and works in the Napa Valley.
“Look around,” he told the large crowd, sitting and standing in the shade at the park. Nearly all were wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There are no black people here. It’s not about me, not about any of us, but what are African Americans feeling across the U.S.?”
St. Helena High School graduate Emily Perez agreed with Maldonado, saying that St. Helena is half white and half brown, with no blacks.
“There are things in St. Helena that need to change,” she said.
The event was in response to the killing of a black Minneapolis man, George Floyd, whose death at the hands of police has sparked demonstrations around the world. Floyd died May 25 after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer who kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd repeated “Help me” and “I can’t breathe” and called for his mother before losing consciousness.
By phone and through a microphone, Maldonado brought a friend, 22-year-old Malick Koly from New York, to the crowd. Koly said he was the only black man at St. Helena High School when he attended a few years ago.
“My time in St. Helena was very delicate,” he said, adding he “still has to atone for my sins,” including “letting people touch my hair in the halls of St. Helena High School. I’m mad as hell, but the only way to reach you is from a place of love.”
Koly added that it is not a black person’s job to educate white people.
The crowd, estimated to be scores of people, was mostly made up of St. Helena High School students and alumni. Koly told them there’s work to be done “right there in your back yard. It’s time to dig in, to look in the mirror and ask, ‘What am I willing to sacrifice to save a black life?’ because you say that black lives matter.”
He added, “When you see something unusual, is it your first impulse to call the cops?”
He urged people to be careful with stereotypes, to dismantle them, to suppress them and to “separate yourselves from those who don’t support the cause.”
From the crowd, a speaker identified only as Javier came to the microphone and said he grew up in St. Helena. “Everyone knows racism is very real in St. Helena; we just look past the racism every day,” he said. “It’s time for a change.”
Echoing those thoughts was Felicia dePina, who graduated from St. Helena High in 2006. “My parents came from the Cape Verde Islands. I’ve seen my own family experience racism,” she said, “C’mon, it’s 2020, we need to make a change.”
She said she has left St. Helena, which opened her eyes – “it’s not all peaches and cream like St. Helena.” DePina said, “We have to continue to fight” racism.
A few speakers later, her father, Nuias dePina, spoke to the crowd. Coming to St. Helena in 1974, he said he didn’t speak English – “everything sounded foreign to me,” he said. In high school, dePina played football and said he was on the Saints’ last championship team in 1978. Since then, he worked in the wine industry for 40 years and is a manager for a large winery.
“Change is not easy. It is one step at a time,” dePina said, adding he’s been profiled before. “I’m proud to see you all here. Take the change that starts with an election here in November.”
You may reach David Stoneberg at 967-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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