Hundreds of residents from across the Lehigh Valley came together in Nazareth to honor the memory of George Floyd, protest against police brutality, and demand change during a peaceful protest on Saturday, June 6.
The march started outside the Nazareth Borough Police Department and worked its way up Main Street to the Circle. There, marchers knelt in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, ultimately killing him.
Gabe Knowles, a 2020 Nazareth Area High School graduate, organized the march in a matter of days with friends and family by his side.
He acknowledged that Nazareth “is not the best” when it comes to diversity and wanted his younger siblings to experience a “better environment.” It was a statement echoed by many marchers from in and around Nazareth.
Knowles hoped that the march would prompt “like-minded and open people” to come together and inspire change. He expected maybe a hundred or so people to join him. Instead, several hundred did. Surrounding streets were closed as the marchers peacefully joined together, the crowd stretching for blocks. Chants of “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “Say His Name” echoed throughout the borough.
“This is a beautiful thing,” said Alijah Flora, a lifelong resident of Nazareth. Florah energetically joined in the march, carrying a poster with Floyd’s image. “We are making history today.”
For many marchers, it was an event they never thought they would see in the borough, but one that signaled change may be on the horizon.
“It is easy for us to bury our heads in the sand,” said Brigid Tray, a former Nazareth resident who returned to the borough for the march. “I am here to support the cause. Support my family.”
In the Circle, there was not an open space of greenery or sidewalk, except one walkway where the names of black men and women killed by police were listed. Every marcher, of all ages, genders, and races, knelt side-by-side. The only sound that could be heard was the church bell of Nazareth Moravian Church. After nearly nine minutes, when marchers finally rose, the silence was heavy.
“Wasn’t that a long time?” Knowles asked the crowd.
The march continued back down Main Street where it circled the police department and worked its way back up to the Circle. In total, the route was followed three times. Volunteers handed out bottles of water.
Nate Knowles, Gabe’s father, gave credit to his son and the many other young people who helped organize the march.
“This is all the kids,” he said. “It is their generation that wants to get things done. They are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
He said that Nazareth is changing. It has an “old past,” but change has come. He thanked Police Chief Randall Miller for jumping in and joining the marchers. It was a move that he said was “heartfelt.”
“Hopefully this is a first step for healing our country,” he added.
Chief Miller was alongside the marchers the entire time, joining in with their chants and shaking the hands (or, in this time of social distancing, bumping the elbows) of those who marched past.
“When police powers are abused, there is no bigger critic than police officers,” he said. He added that the events in Minneapolis were “tragic.”
“[Chauvin’s] actions destroy the faith in the community between law enforcement and the community,” he continued.
He saw this peaceful protest where police and marchers could come together as one of the “great things” about the Lehigh Valley.
Gabe Knowles said he hoped the marchers who came out and the people who observed will realize that “Black lives do matter.”
“We are not going to stop,” he said. “When you knock us down, we will get back up.”
After organizing this first-of-its kind march in the borough, there is still a lot of change Knowles hopes to inspire. He will be attending Howard University in the fall on a scholarship. He’ll play Division I tennis and study political science with the hopes of becoming a civil rights attorney.