A peaceful, organized crowd of several hundred people marched from Philip S. Miller Library to Festival Park on Sunday to ‘start the conversation’ about race relations in Castle Rock and Douglas County. Coordinated via social media by representatives of Black Lives Matter and local pastor, Joshua Pease, the event gave voices to residents who have experienced prejudice and racial injustice within our community.

Pastor Ebassa Berhanu of Faith Lutheran Church

The first speaker, Pastor Ebassa Berhanu, of Faith Lutheran Church in Castle Rock, took 13-minutes to not only thank the crowd for coming, but also noting the strides our country has made since the days of Martin Luther King. While black Americans no longer have to sit on the back of the bus and signs are no longer posted for white only bathrooms, he wanted listeners to know that prejudice ‘not always visible to the eye’ exists and that there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I remember getting the dreadful call from my son’s school,” Pastor Ebassa Behanu recounted, “You need to come up and pick up your son. He’s in tears.” On the other end of the phone a teacher began to tell him that another student had told his son that he was not good enough and that he was not going to play with him because he was black.

He went on to recount other stories of racial prejudice he and his family have experienced over the years since relocating from Minneapolis, MN for him to take on the Lead Pastor position at Faith Lutheran Church in Castle Rock in 2011. “I can tell you other stories, but the point is not to make any of you feel guilty,” he continued, “The point is to point out the reality of the broken system we live in.”

Hana Behanu (wife of Ebassa Behanu) speaks at Festival Park

The meeting went on to have organizers thank the local police for their presence, continuing with Hana, Behanu’s wife, lending her thoughts to the attentive group. She shared similar experiences of racial inequality and of crimes committed against her family because of the color of their skin. During her talk, the crowd was silenced by her scream in the microphone- a cry symbolic of the frustration she has felt since the brutal death of George Floyd and the events that have followed.

It was the only way she could express the hurt she has felt over the past two weeks. A former resident of Richmond, Minnesota, a suburb or Minneapolis, the cry was the pain of watching the city her family and friends live near be torn apart on television.

Perhaps one of the most emotional parts of the gathering was the request from organizers that followed. The crowd was asked to lay down or kneel on the ground chanting ‘I can’t breathe.’ It was 9 minutes that was meant for participants to remotely relate to the way Floyd felt pleading for relief from the knee cutting off his airway during the last moments of his life.

But the Berhanus, Pastor Pease, and powerful, 15-year old, female student who spoke wanted to leave the crowd with a positive takeaway. They echoed each other’s sentiments in that they hoped listeners would use this moment as an opportunity. It was a call for each one of us to make a change in our towns and cities by not turning a blind eye to racial crimes and unseen prejudice.

“This invisible wall of racism exists…but seeing you here has restored my hope friends,” Pastor Berhanu said with a smile, “It has restored my hope in humanity.”

Attendees bowing their heads in prayer for unity in Castle Rock.

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In his speech at Cornell College on October 15, 1962, Dr. King stated, “… I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

Isn’t it crazy after 58 years, this remains true? If change is going to happen:
1. We need to stop fearing each other.
2. We need to start getting to know each other.
3. We need to start talking to each other.
4. We need to break down the invisible wall of segregation and walk across the track.