HOWELL – It has been more than three months since Juliet Emma Klesitz filled an outside playground area with attendees for a peaceful protest to give voice to concerns about racism and to oppose police brutality.
“I couldn’t sit by and do nothing,” she said at the time in reference to the George Floyd case and other incidents similar to it around the country.
She and many of the speakers who came out June 14 to a township park said improvements were needed in Howell itself. Some speakers expressed that they experienced incidents of racism in the township in the past.
Earlier this year efforts of change were recognized by the Freehold Regional High School District in the alteration of a long-standing mascot for Howell High School from a caricature of a Confederate soldier to a Colonial soldier for the football team called the Rebels. While the team name didn’t change, the mascot himself not only got a change of face but his name was shortened to the letter “H.”
Changing the look of the mascot was part of why Klesitz felt it was necessary to organize a rally in Howell. She was upset about a modified image that appeared on a social media site where a Howell High School T-shirt had a confederate flag Photoshopped onto it.
“The person responsible added the words ‘rebel pride’ to it. This really disgusted me on a level which is really hard to explain because growing up here my whole life I guess I was just ignorant to the racism that was ingrained in the history of the town but now it has become so much more blatant,” she said in June.
Reflecting on her rally and others that have been held across the country since May and the current climate Klesitz said, “I do feel that a lot of people are finally opening their eyes to and acknowledging black American history and the roots of systemic racism in our town, state, and country.”
“I am also noticing there is still resistance to the notion of change in the name of equality. Unfortunately, I would not necessarily say I have seen progress in Howell,” she added.
Klesitz said she was disappointed that “our own mayor still refuses to make any comment at all on the state of racism in the state and country, or even the anti-racism protest I organized but instead only acknowledges our police force.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Howell is not necessarily known for police brutality, but her silence on the topic of racism is quite deafening for many citizens including myself,” Klesitz added.
Residents Dolly Ocholla, Sarah Teichert and Brianne Herrman are among those working in another way to combat racism in Howell Township.
They and a few others created a Facebook group to “educate on the important contributions of people of color and to have an inclusive curriculum.”
Teichert explained the group’s purpose saying, “after the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other people of color earlier this year, residents from Howell joined together to form Not in Our Town Howell, a local affiliate of a national anti-racist organization, hoping to translate the pain and anger from these recent events into real and lasting change in our local community.”
The description for the group states that is a “multi-racial, multi-faith group of individuals who stand together for racial justice and inclusive communities.”
“Our focus is to promote the equitable treatment of all, and to uncover and confront racism – a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other,” the description states.
The group’s goal is to “work with residents, schools, community and local government agencies within Howell to identify and expose the political, economic, and cultural systems which have enabled racism to flourish, and to create new structures and policies which will ensure equality and inclusion for all.”