Opinion: Feedback From Parents Of BIPOC Youth On The Naming Of The Amherst 9


Photo: Strong Towns

I am submitting this article on behalf of parents of BIPOC youth known as the Amherst 9. They requested that I share the input below so as to protect their privacy.

“As self-described descendants of African American enslaved people, Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker and Town Councilor Anika Lopes, both serving on the board of Ancestral Bridges (a non-profit established by Lopes earlier this year to advance the cause of local black history and BIPOC teens), are calling appropriation on the use of Amherst 9 because the “sensationalized” incident in Amherst on July 5 as they see it does not compare to the suffering endured by the all black composition of the Scottsboro 9 and the Little Rock 9.”

“It saddens me there’s this emphasis on labeling rights and very little discussion of civil rights—especially the rights of our nine young people on July 5, 2022. Frankly, I don’t think our ancestors care what we call ourselves or what people call us, if we were all black or multiracial. They would be proud we are carrying on the tradition of not giving up on ourselves and working collectively to demand justice. #Amherst9 tells our own story and we draw wisdom, inspiration and strength by the history of our past struggles and tragedies. The dehumanization and criminalization of black and brown bodies goes back, and Lopes and Whitaker took us to two moments with the number 9. What we are hoping to do is end it here in Amherst, whether it be 8, 9 or 10 individuals involved, all black or multiracial involved, in whatever categories of injustices. #Amherst9 is a direct nod to our past for sure. I applaud the authors connecting that.”

“Only a parent can understand the horrible thoughts that flash like lightening and boom like thunder when a police officer calls you in the middle of the night about your teen. Is that sensationalism? Do we really need a display of the most horrific of injustices and suffering to protest, plan and organize in the way that we want to? Do we really need death and torture on our hands to implement positive changes in this town? Parents have the right to be horrified and terrified about what happened and could have happened to our children based on the past and the present situation of racist policing in the US of black and brown bodies and the racial profiling that exists in Amherst policing. For some of our children this bad interaction with Amherst police is just the tip of the iceberg. Is this an attempt to trivialize our pain and the harm done to our teens? Are we being accused of sensationalism???”

“Let’s talk about accountability and transparency and a will to change, to do better, to do right, to provide justice, healing and closure for our youth. Let’s move forward not backwards and use the powers in our hands.”

Pat Ononibaku is a member of the Amherst Community Safety and Social Justice Committee and the Chair of Progressive Coalition of Amherst.

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