By Emily Jackson
Hundreds of Toledo community members and activists rallied together this past Sunday to march united in the name of equality, justice and freedom.
The Young Women’s Christian Association of Northwest Ohio hosted its 2nd annual I Rise Unity March Jan. 21 at 3:30 p.m. in downtown Toledo.
The half mile march began at the “Toledo Loves Love” mural at 1205 Adams St. and ended at Trinity Episcopal Church, where a resource fair was set up to help provide people with ways to get involved in their communities and issues they care about.
Lisa McDuffie, president and CEO of YWCA of Northwest Ohio said that, while people came out to march in response to any number of global issues including global warming, healthcare and criminal justice reform, everyone there united to form a bond.
“We are here to collectively let our actions speak louder than our words,” McDuffie said. “It is important that we mobilize ourselves, organize ourselves and get to the polls.”
McDuffie said YWCA has been part of the Toledo community for more than 125 years and their mission is to work toward the empowerment of women and the elimination of racism.
“It is important for us to denounce all forms of racism, regardless of where it comes from, regardless of who says it,” McDuffie said. “Collectively, injustice against one group is an injustice against all groups.”
McDuffie also directly addressed the young people who had come out to participate, applauding them and thanking them for being there to lead the march.
Penny Tullis, director of the YWCA youth development office and march coordinator said some of the participating teens were part of YWCA’s Teen Outreach Program and would lead the march that day.
“I am inspired by them more than I could possibly say,” Tullis said. “They are a diverse group with different backgrounds, abilities, identities, and beliefs and all are welcomed.”
The TOP teens led the crowd in chants such as “The people, united, will never be divided” and “Show me what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like” as they marched down Adams Street.
Tullis also said that, while they would have been there for days if they “could have asked speakers for all the ways that people in our community feel threatened,” she wants the youth of Toledo to know that they live in a city that cares about them and the issues that impact them every day.
Toledo community member Denice Rokicki participated in this year’s march as well as last year’s Women’s March in Washington D.C. and said she marches for the younger generations.
“For the women younger than me, they are the ones that have been waiting for the change,” Rokicki said. “The most important change for women is equal respect.”
Gender equality was just one of the issues the march focused on. Among the signs that read “pussy power” and “the future is female,” were also ones that read “black lives matter,” “silence is consent” and “all are welcome.”
Patty Hernandez, senior attorney for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, said that she stands with refugees, the LGBT community, Muslims, people of color, and people with disabilities.
A daughter to immigrants and a sister to three siblings born outside the U.S., Hernandez spoke on immigration policies in particular and said that it was uplifting to see so many gathered to celebrate unity.
“It’s truly heartwarming to see this many of us come together at a time where there’s so much strife and division in our country,” Hernandez said. “We stand together as one family, one Toledo, one Lucas County, one United States of America.”
Another community leader spoke out against anti-semitism and white supremacy.
Eric Dubow, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, denounced xenophobia and religious discrimination to say that people should, through united, positive and constructive voice and action, “fight against these divisive forces.”
“Speeches and peaceful demonstrations are important because they demonstrate that, despite our different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identities, we are all united in our moral values of peace and tolerance and social justice,” Dubow said. “We must find ways to work together, to provide joined social, educational, and economic opportunities, for those who are most vulnerable.”