The walk from Union Square to Chinatown is meant to be uncomfortable. Since last summer, Coffey, the founder of the activist group Running to Protest, has been organizing monthly 5K runs and walks to raise awareness for various social injustices. After the horrifying shooting in Atlanta, and the rise of anti-Asian violence over the past year, the focus this month was to facilitate a dialogue and bring about a renewed sense of solidarity between Black and Asian communities.
“My thing is just to speak about truth—it’s going to be a very uncomfortable conversation—but it takes uncomfortable conversations to all stand on one common ground,” says Coffey, who organized this weekend’s protest alongside artist Power Malu and fashion designers Dao-Yi Chow, Prabal Gurung, and Phillip Lim.
By 10 a.m. on Sunday morning, more than a thousand people packed the southern half of Union Square. Speakers representing different parts of New York City urged unity to the crowd. “We have always connected and we have always been friends—it’s just that people have been fear-mongering and making people afraid of each other,” says Power Malu. “We’ve got to use this opportunity to bring people together instead of dividing people.”
Soon, the crowd began making its way through Lower Manhattan. Outdoor diners took cellphone photos, while other passersby raised their fists or cheered on the protestors. A Black woman stuck in traffic on Canal Street—an official border of Chinatown—rolled down her window and chanted with the protestors: “Black lives matter. Asian lives matter.”
“I think that we as a younger generation should educate elder people as to why we should support Black and Asian communities,” says Xiao Mei, a 25-year-old freelance illustrator who has never attended a protest before. Mei has experienced anti-Blackness before in some of her Asian communities—and, on the very day of the solidarity march, she says a white woman yelled a racial slur at her. “I should do this more often to raise my voice and not be afraid to speak out and be angry.”
Lim says that reaching Columbus Park, the protest’s endpoint, created a common goal for everyone, which the designer sees as a metaphor of carrying each other to the finish line. For Gurung, the march served as an inflection point for the two communities. “We carry the burden with us of the generation before, but that was then and this is now,” says Gurung. “Now we’re starting anew. Real change is going to happen.”