With the presidential inauguration approaching and Americans celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., we visited the Westerly Black Lives Matter demonstration to hear the stories and hopes of protesters.

My name is Kayla Kennedy. I'm 20 years old and also a proud Black woman.

I want to be hopeful. I think it's good to be hopeful, because good things will come; we're in the right direction. It's hard not to also feel disheartened by a lot of the blatant acts of racism. There's no hiding from it now, and everyone can see it now in ways that only Black people could see it before.

I don't think there was a point of our country ever being this pinnacle of success and incredibleness. We were never great. Our entire country was built off of the blood, sweat and tears of Black labor. And I think if we keep trying to ignore the fact that we do have this horrible past, we're not going to be able to achieve a more successful future. We're gonna have to publicly, and as a whole, acknowledge our brutal past.

It's not going to be tomorrow or next week, or maybe even in my lifetime. But hopefully, we're moving in the direction of being in a better place. It's going to take real work from everyone, not just Black people, not just a couple of white people. It's going to take real work sticking up for Black people and speaking out against racist family members and friends, and pushing that discomfort to actually better ourselves and make a better place.Cookie Rivera. I live in Westerly. 

There's a lot of injustice in this country, and they're brought by the same people who terrorized the Capitol. And it's wrong. There are a lot of people that go out there and fight for this country, and they're from all different backgrounds, and they're watching this. And it's wrong.

Just like John Lewis--when he said make good trouble. This is what all these people [at this demonstration in Westerly] are doing. They're making good trouble. 

You have to be [hopeful]. If you're not, then you're letting destruction win. And destruction winning means people dying, just like they did.I'm Colin Jarvis. I'm a Vietnam era vet.

I think it’s a very worrisome state of affairs that we have nowadays. It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking to know that so many Black Americans have sacrificed so much for this country, and to be on the receiving end of all the vitriol and all the hate is not right.

We shouldn't be where we are right now, considering all the effort and all the sacrifices that people before have made, it should be better.

I have high hopes for America. I think that the struggle goes on. And what we can't do in this generation, the next generation picks up from where we left off and takes it further. I think the youth and seeing people speak their minds, and listening to certain people, I get encouraged.My name is Amanda Dunn. I'm a Westerly resident. I've lived here for 25 years.

I've never in my life felt so uneasy. I never knew that this is where our country would be. I thought with COVID there'd be more unity. It seems like they're still adding fuel to the fire for this racism and this hatred in the country. I don't even know how to word it right now. It's just an uneasy feeling. 

I've heard and seen a lot of things because, being a lighter skinned Black woman, I've been privy to certain conversations that other people may not hear, because they assume I'm not a Black woman. Some of the things I hear are scary, and some of the ways that people feel, it makes me nervous about--what direction is this country heading in?

I feel like we're almost there, but we're not there yet. And the dream is just unity and being able to be peaceful and not having unfairness in the judicial system. With the imprisonment of young Black boys, I feel like it's just another form of slavery. So I feel like we're not there yet.My name is Byron Dunn, and I'm here from Westerly. 

We're very divided. And it's a lot of hate between different people and everything. I hope things do get better. And we're on track to start bringing people together and everything. We just have to get everybody on the same page.Madeline Labriola. I live in Westerly. 

There has to be dialogue. There has to be communication. There has to be love for each other. Some people say it can happen. But if we don't, it's either chaos or community, I believe Martin Luther King said. And I certainly don't want chaos. I certainly would hate to see this country just drop into that. 

I hope Biden--he's got some job. I can't imagine what that must feel on his shoulders, to have to heal the country, bring it together, heal the pandemic, take care of the economy, climate. We're in a very, very fragile state.

People have to, first of all, admit that they've made a mistake. You have to admit that you're sorry. So I think that we have to look at all of our history and say, ‘We were wrong, and we need to heal this. And we need to make reparation. And we need to understand.’

I have to be hopeful, because the opposite of hope is giving up. And I can never do that--not with 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren, and people that I love that, when I'm gone, they're gonna be here. 

Sometimes I'm more hopeful than other times. When I'm out here with these people, I'm very hopeful.


[EDITOR'S NOTE: Interviews for this story were conducted and condensed by South County Bureau Reporter Alex Nunes. Music in the audio version of this story was played on scene by activist and hip hop violinist Kevin Lowther, aka Big Lux. ]

Alex Nunes can be reached at anunes@thepublicsradio.org.