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'You bleed the same way I bleed': Vancouver's 'Juneteenth' protestors share why they marched

"It hurts when people will look at me and judge me because of my colour and not because of what I'm capable of or what I am doing."
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Photo: Ryan Walter Wagner for Vancouver Is Awesome

"We are all in this together. You bleed the same way I bleed."

Thousands of protestors marched through Downtown Vancouver Friday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to celebrate "Juneteenth" - the day that marks the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy.

When they reached their final destination, demonstrators gathered under a grey sky that threatened to rain, and, united by tragedy, they chanted about change, hope, and freedom. 

Here are some of the personal stories they told Vancouver Is Awesome.

Emmanuel Ennin 


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"Today's a special day. Today marks the liberation of the black man, the black woman, the black race from the hands of oppression, from the hands of slavery, from the hands of dictatorship," says Ennin. 

"The truth about Canada is that you don't get racism thrown in your face, but there are people who express it subtly. I've had people call me the N-word. I've had people who would not sit close to me on the bus. I"ve had a woman looking at me, and she started to switch the position of her bag when I was coming in her direction.

"You know, people will not tell me to go back to where I come from. They won't tell me that they don't like me because of my colour. But people will tell me that through their actions, and it hurts. It hurts when people will look at me and judge me because of my colour and not because of what I'm capable of or what I am doing."

Anneka Ekelund 


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"There has never really been a chance in Vancouver to show the sadness and fear and emotion for the people who are dying. This is the first time we've been able to do that as a community," says Ekelund (pictured far left). 

"I know personally I've been called an [expletive], and I've had people ask (my dad is white) if he brought my mom from the Philippines to come get married. I've had people tell me that Filipina women are not good to get married to - like you can have sex with them, have them watch your kids and cook and clean, but that they are too controlling.

"All these memories that are wrapped into our childhood. It's hard, and I hate experiencing it. I've felt uncomfortable because of the colour of my skin.

"I've never felt afraid to be a person of colour the way a black person might and that honestly breaks my heart because it's so unfair. I feel like I should be lucky that I've only been verbally harassed," Ekelend holds back tears. "But now you see it's changing, Asian people are getting attacked for no reason. It's just so unfair."

Vladimir Lubin

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"I was raised in Montreal and I moved to Vancouver. The racism in Montreal is in your face. If there is a racist in your presence, they won't hide their intention or their feelings about you," says Lubin. "It's sad to say but I prefer that because then I know how to deal with someone. In Vancouver the racism here is subtle. The little behaviours that they do make me wonder: A) Are they not aware they're doing it? Is it a form of indoctrination? Or B)  they know they are doing it.

"I'm perplexed because I see so many people here but I've been in Vancouver for 20 years and my experience in Vancouver has been pretty weird. I walk down the street and when they acknowledge I'm a black person the first thing they do is they pat themselves: make sure their phone is there, their belongings are there.

"Seeing this is good but at the same time this is not the first time we've done this. Martin Luther King did it. The real march and real protest that needs to happen is in your mind and your heart. As long as we don't do that we're going to do this for another 70 or 80 years. To everyone that's here: you have to really think about how you perceive black people. Have you ever done that yourself - when saw a black person - were you afraid? Where does the fear come from? Have you ever had a bad interaction with a black person or does it come from the movies or indoctrination from when you were a kid.

"First and foremost, we have to see how we perceive people in our minds and hearts. And that's a conversation people need to have, but I don't see it here. All  I hear are chants. The whole system has to be reformed."

Raymond Johnson and Michelle Chen 

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"I'm from Toronto, and I notice [racism] there more. Things like at night people see you coming and cross the street, despite the fact that you're not doing anything." says Johnson."I feel it happens everywhere. I feel it's in people's unconscious mind."

"People sometimes expect me to be a certain way because I am Asian," says Chen. "Or they'll say, "Oh no offence but you look Asian," and I don't understand why I would be offended by that because I am Asian."

"Treat everyone equally. If you do that, it spreads to someone else. It starts with yourself," adds Johnson. "I believe this generation will be the one that makes the change."

Keith Pope

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"I moved to Vancouver from the states, and it has been an honour. It's the first time in my life I don't feel like a second-class citizen," says Pope. "I am a product of the Baltimore city public schools. The system is broken. When I was in elementary school it was broken and today it's broken. I had a professional job in a mutual fund company for 18 years, and I was never promoted to management. When I came to Vancouver I took a job with the same kind of company, entry-level, and I was promoted, just like that, in five months. That speaks volumes.

"I'm not saying Canada doesn't have racism, but the States just don't care. I have a daughter down there, and she takes her nursing credentials with her to be able to show police to hopefully prevent them from doing something badly to her.

"We are all in this together. You bleed the same way I bleed."

Sade and Bena Kehler 

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"I was a speaker this afternoon and I am 300 percent for the Black Lives Matter movement," says Sade Kehler (the mother pictured). "And defunding the police, funding education, getting more anti-racism programs into our schools. 

"Racism is very real. It's happening. It has been incredible seeing all these people come out. We need to speak to the education ministers and Justin Trudeau. We are half-way there and we can't stop." 

Juneteenth is currently recognized as a state holiday or special day of observance in 47 U.S. states, while tech companies Twitter and Square announced this week that they’ve designated the date a company holiday. 

- With files from Megan Lalonde.