Olivia Hougham offered opening remarks at a vigil in Village Green Park on Saturday. photo by Katy Yoder
Olivia Hougham offered opening remarks at a vigil in Village Green Park on Saturday. photo by Katy Yoder
Sisters activists held a vigil at Village Green Park on Saturday, July 25, on the two-month anniversary of the killing of George Floyd. Floyd was a 46-year-old Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Memorial Day after being accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes. A cellphone video showed an officer pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.”

Since then, officer Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on Floyd’s neck, was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and a subsequent additional second-degree murder charge was added later.

Floyd’s death, and those of other Black people killed by police, reignited efforts to address racial injustice and the need for police reform in the United States. Since the Floyd killing, Sisters residents have peacefully demonstrated along East Cascade Avenue to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

At the Saturday vigil, organizers from Indivisible Sisters held an event to remember Floyd’s murder and read the names of 97 other Black Americans killed by police. Floyd’s name was read last with a moment of silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, which was how long Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Sisters High School 2020 graduate Olivia Hougham was invited to speak at the vigil.

In an interview prior to the event, Hougham said, “So many people see Sisters as this positive place with everyone coming together as a community. But that was not my experience. I want people to be aware that not everything is as perfect as it seems in Sisters. Things still need to be fixed. We all need to take that responsibility, especially in Sisters where we’re not as exposed as other places to what different kids experience around the world and our nation. We have to be more sensitive to those who are different, and may need something more.”

As a person of Asian descent, Hougham gave an example of an Asian person in the Sisters schools, and how Chinese, or students of Asian descent, have been treated since the coronavirus hit the U.S.

“It’s people who don’t respect Chinese culture,” Hougham told The Nugget. “Kids make fun of the language at my school and I have to say it’s not OK. It makes us both feel awkward, and even though I’m doing the right thing it brings a tension between us, especially since I’m the minority. People associate the coronavirus with China and take out their anger on Chinese or Asian people in general. Students don’t realize it’s not a joke and it needs to be taken seriously. It’s a very real problem and more dangerous for a person who’s Asian American. It can be scary.”

A member of the steering committee for Indivisible Sisters Oregon, Joshua Berger said he hopes events like the George Floyd vigil will help people learn, and encourage them to take time to listen and dig deeper into racism in the U.S.

“This kind of violence has been going on for hundreds of years. There just wasn’t cell phone videos to capture it. We wanted to have an evening of contemplation. I don’t have black skin, so I’ll never know truly what it’s like,” said Berger. “We hope awareness is increased and people think about what they can do to improve things. But the journey is inward as well. We can all do better.”

Hougham hopes her efforts and those of many Sisters residents will improve conditions for Black people.

“We all have privilege if we’re not Black,” she said. “I wanted to tell others that if they’re not doing anything, then they’re on the wrong side. They need to take a stand against racism even if they don’t experience it themselves. They need to take time to educate themselves and make themselves available for allyship whenever possible. If you’re different or not the typical person who lives in Sisters, some people think it’s wrong to have a grievance or address a problem when we should be grateful for what we have. It can be toxic to be positive all the time. We need to take responsibility for the things that still need improvement. Just because you ignore something doesn’t make it any less real. If you choose to not accept what’s happening that doesn’t invalidate what other people are experiencing or who they are or what they have been through. I want to make it clear that to make this country and community better and stronger, we need to start accepting different perspectives and start accepting people for who they are.”