"We believe that one day we will be free, and we're going to be singing this song."
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.
The "Freedom from Hate March" kicked off in Jack Poole Plaza at 4 p.m., where Vancouver-based organizers Nova Stevens and Shamika Mitchell spoke to an attentive crowd. People of all ages came out to participate in the anti-racism demonstration, and many of them wore all black clothing in support of the movement.
Before the march commenced, a speaker gave a passionate speech: "Every slave that threw themselves off of ships so they wouldn't be standing here before you, everybody who had died in the name of existence just because of their skin colour, to all of the black people, to Martin Luther King, to Malcom X, to our great leaders who became targets. We want you to know your legacy is carried on by us. We believe that one day we will be free, and we're going to be singing this song. Even though it's not 1830 it still feels like it. Why are we still marching?"
"When will we be free? When you march to today, I want you to remember why, I want you to remember what every step you take signifies, what every step echoes into time that this will not happen no more. Our children will stop fighting. We will stop marching - but until then our feet will become the drums that wake up this earth, that shake up this society to know that we will not stand to decide we are free. One day we will be free and today is that day."
Demonstrators marched from Jack Poole Plaza down Thurlow Street, as onlookers watched from nearby rooftops and balconies. A number of people cheered from the sidelines, while others proudly displayed Black Lives Matters banners from their homes.
At the front of the march, a speaker led a series of chants, including, “All lives cannot matter until black lives matter!” and, "No justice, no peace!"
People passionately chanted "Black lives matter!" over a sea of skyward fists, while many others held up painted signs that called for justice, equality, and solidarity.
When they reached their final destination, marchers began to move into Sunset Beach Park near English Bay. A number of musicians, poets, actors, and community members performed and gave powerful speeches on a stage near the beach.
One speaker (who took to the stage alongside B.C.'s favourite sign language interpreter Nigel Howard) told demonstrators they are "freedom fighters."
"All of us are engraved into this revolution now," she said. "This is the kind of movement that humanity exists for."
While it was difficult to maintain a safe two-meter distance in the sprawling crowd, almost every face donned a mask. In addition, volunteers gave out masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. There was also a first aid station in the area.
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.
Have a look at some of the most powerful moments from Friday's demonstration.
- With files from Megan Lalonde.