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Otha Day leads a drum circle on Friday at Field Park in Williamstown
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Hundreds turned out to ring Field Park at Friday evening's vigil and celebration of Juneteenth.

Day Delivers Personal Message to Juneteenth Gathering

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The rallies at Field Park have become a weekly Friday event.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Otha Day's music is his message, and on Friday evening, that message was about unity.
 
On a day when millions of Americans celebrate the end of slavery, Day reminded a crowd of hundreds gathered at Field Park that the historical origin of Juneteenth was just one step on the road to achieving that unity.
 
And, he gave that unity a soundtrack.
 
"This sound," he said, giving one drum beat, "literally unites each of us on this planet to everyone else on this planet. We are all responsible, not just for yourself and your children, but we are all responsible for everybody here.
 
"I do not like the word 'ally.' It's very popular now, but I don't believe it. I'd like to ask that you dismiss that word from your vocabulary. ... What I believe we should have is not allies, because ally implies someone is supporting someone else. I believe that we have to be partners in realizing that we are all in this together.
 
"Everything that happens to me and affects my life also affects your life."
 
Day, a well-known local drummer, pianist and music educator, was at the center of the festivities Friday as Williamstown residents marked Juneteenth with a celebration following what has become a weekly demonstration and vigil in support of racial justice.
 
After sharing his reflections, Day led the crowd in some songs of celebration fitting of the day commemorating a proclamation that ended lives of bondage for millions of Americans.
 
But before he spoke, Day helped the attendees mark the time of the 8 minutes, 46 seconds that most of the crowd knelt in remembrance of the time that George Floyd spent handcuffed and face down in the street with a police officer's knee on his neck.
 
The North Berkshire-based educator shared a bit of his personal history with the crowd to remind them that Floyd's killing is part of a pattern of racism in America that has been part of the nation since its founding and continues to this day.
 
"That murder is nothing new," Day said. "That has occurred since I was a little child. I remember stories like that throughout my childhood. If you're just waking up to that, then that's good. I'm glad that you're awake. But that is something that's been part of the reality for Black people in this country as long as I've been alive.
 
"I'm from Mississippi. My grandparents were forced off of their farm when I was a little boy, and they had to move to Jackson. I was born in Yazoo. They had to move to Jackson because one of my uncles got a little fresh with someone in law enforcement, and they said to him that if they didn't move, they were going to kill that man."
 
Day said he has been blessed not to experience that kind of direct racism in his adult life, but Black people are denied their basic humanity throughout the United States.
 
"I encounter [racism] here in the Berkshires, here in Williamstown," he said. "I have not been pulled over. I've been fortunate not to have that happen. But there are many tiny things that happen to me. It happens here, also. It's not just down South.
 
"If you have ever uttered the phrase, 'I am not racist,' then you need to have a conversation. If you've ever uttered the phrase, 'I have a Black friend, I have Black family members, I have Black co-workers,' then there needs to be a conversation."

Tags: black lives matter,   drumming,   holiday,   protests,   

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Williamstown Panel Looks at Context of Historic Monuments

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

A sign erected by the Williamstown Historical Commission to recognize the site of the 18th Century West Hoosac Fort.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town's newest committee Monday got down to the business of finding ways to talk about the truth of the Village Beautiful's founding.
 
The Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee discussed two historical markers and whether they do more to sanitize that history and marginalize Native Americans than they do to educate the public.
 
Lauren Stevens of the 1753 House Committee told the DIRE Committee that his group has discussed how to properly contextualize one of the highest profile structures in town, a replica of an 18th-century dwelling built in 1953 with period-specific techniques to help celebrate the town's centennial.
 
"Bilal [Ansari] was talking at the Friday afternoon Black Lives Matter rally, and he mentioned in a passing reference to the 1753 House that there were, indeed, people in this area before those being honored by the settlement in 1753," Stevens said.
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