UPDATE: 'Right here in Naples, New York, black lives matter'
NAPLES — Addressing a crowd gathered Wednesday for a Black Lives Matter march in Naples, Sim Covington Jr. pointed out his physique — a 6-foot, 5-inch Afrian American weighing 300 pounds.
“I share these stats because individuals who are getting killed in this country look like me,” said Covington, chief diversity office at Finger Lakes Community College.
“As I look around, given the number of white people who are here, I want to take the time for you all to give yourself a round of applause — because right here in Naples, New York, black lives matter,” he said.
Petra Page-Mann, who helped organize the event that began with speakers and then a march down Main Street, evoked Naples history as a place of refuge for African Americans escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. She told the story of Billy Marks, a local undertaker who brought Frederick Douglass to speak in Naples in 1852 — and most importantly, hid slaves in his hearse to take them in the dead of night over the hill to the next stop, the Pitts mansion in Honeoye, on their way to freedom. Page-Mann said this same spirit of justice and compassion alive in Naples can drive change today.
Army veteran Austin Hunsinger, a registered Republican who voted for President Donald Trump, urged those gathered to “be the bridge” in ending racism. He talked about his personal experience and how he came to understand and join the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I am inviting all of you on both sides of the argument to be the bridge,” Hunsinger said. “No matter what the other’s beliefs are, no matter how angry they make you in their arguments — don’t give up on them. No matter what words they may use to bring you down, don’t give up on them. Because they can change. I changed.”
Other speakers included Marine Corps veteran Penny Punnett and event co-organizer Sadie Frederick, among others.
The Naples march coincides with protests across the globe and across the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Protests locally included those in Canandaigua, Victor, Brighton and elsewhere. Other signs of solidarity with Black Lives Matter included hospital workers taking a knee outside UR Medicine’s Thompson Health in Canandaigua and Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.