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My experience with race and racism in Ferndale

I'm the organizer of the Ferndale "protest" rally, gathering on June 28. There have been multiple threats against me and others who attended circulating social media since it hit the news. My inbox exploded with messages and screenshots all week long. It broke my heart. Everyone deserves to feel safe. There were children present and it was still a peaceful, empowering event.

The event's description was, "Today we honor the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrate Pride Month. We want to be inclusive to ALL attending. All attendees and guests must wear a mask and maintain a 6 foot distance. We will have markers in the grass and gravel. This event is permitted by the Ferndale police. The founder is Adrianne Tait Wohlfeil, Ferndale High School class of 2011. Please come prepared with your speeches and join us at the Ferndale Town City Hall on Sunday, June 28, 3 to 5 p.m."

I've been asked to share my speech:

"Good evening everyone and happy Sunday! What a sunny, beautiful day. My name is Adrianne Tait Wohlfeil. I'm the founder of today's event, Ferndale's Peaceful Demonstration Against Discrimination. 

First, I wanted to thank you all for being here and showing your support today. This movement is a historic one in our struggle for equality and basic human rights. I thank you for choosing to be a big part of it. We are only here to unite and have a peaceful, educational and supportive gathering. I created this platform for our community to have a chance to speak freely, safely and to incite a positive change to end discrimination all over Humboldt County. 

I will be addressing the unfortunate stigma and press associated with Ferndale, and also talk about my own experience. A part of justice and peace isn't staying silent by ignoring the issues, or by looking away while others are hurting. It's important to both speak on and acknowledge these hard topics to prevent them ever from happening again. 

To reflect on a few Ferndale incidents: The controversy of students bringing the Confederate flag to school; racial slurs screamed at innocent Native and Black children during sports events; a gay student being threatened with a knife at school; the community's blackface performance and minstrel show.

These incidents, like any type of prejudice, first start out small. But it only gets worse if no real consequences come and if friends and family excuse or defend their behavior. It has a ripple effect. Then it becomes a reputation for the town and minorities get blamed. Parents had to drive their children into different towns and schools just so they could be safe. I've even seen adults of color who move in, but eventually get driven off from staying here long term. It starts with us.

The reason why I organized and feel so strongly about this event is because I believe Ferndale has one of the greatest communities and education systems in all of Humboldt County. I've seen how they've developed incredible students to get into prestigious schools and continue to be physicians, lawyers, engineers. But if a child's learning environment fosters any type of discrimination, it will stay with them as adults and harm other people.

I'll never understand the logic behind hate. I do understand the frustration I felt with my experiences, but never enough to validate hating someone. I moved to Ferndale in 2008. I was 16 and lived here for eight years. I'd walk 10 miles from my home on weekends to support the school. I still consider myself a proud Wildcat. It's a third of my life and I'm glad I got to experience it. 

My first day at Ferndale High School, a classmate told me I was 'brave' for being here. I was completely clueless. Throughout my two years of school, I was called an ugly freak. They would make fun of my hair. Whenever I'd walk around town or into stores they would call me a boy. I believed all of the negative things they would say about me and I'd come home and rub bleach on my skin. Our principal at the time said he was sorry I was having such a hard time and he couldn't understand why since I was a nice girl. After graduating, I developed agoraphobia. I was so terrified of being bullied again, I couldn't leave my room for two years. Every day I dream about being a mom and having a baby, but I don't think I can do it. I'm too full of fear and anxiety that my own child will suffer like I and other minorities continue to do in schools at work and everyday around the world.

We can mutually agree that these incidents do not speak for or represent all the wonderful people of Ferndale, nor is it a Ferndale-only issue.

Everything said is in the past and forgiven. This is why I tried to involve all schools, all city councils and all of Humboldt today. We can agree not all cops are violent and racist. Some honor the words 'to protect and serve.' We can agree not all protesters are rioters and looters. We can mutually agree that all types of discrimination, big or small, are deadly and have to end. We can do our part by simply standing up for other people.

I want to stress to the few who still need to hear it that it's never too late to change. I was skeptical about any change happening until this very movement spread across the world. Then I saw the changes in people firsthand. The modern lynching of George Floyd had scared people with prior prejudice. They know if they don't stop now or change their ways, they will turn out to be the very same person as his killer. They turned to say, 'I'm sorry I was so ignorant, my parents were wrong, I was wrong, and I refuse to pass any hate onto my children.'

George Floyd exposed our true characters and what our basic morals are. We've seen our family and friends either excuse or cause unjustified violence. In the heat of it all, the news media told you to pick a side, him (the police) or me (a Black person), but that's not true. Don't fall for it. Please put down your Blue Lives banner. Don't let them divide us. Don't let them win and spread further hate. Further fear. Realize we have more in common than not. At the end of the day, we are all proud Americans in the pursuit of happiness.

Let us now celebrate the success of the movement, let's praise the voices who are no longer beaten into silence, of you standing up for justice, for always choosing what's right, and being good human beings — we need more of them in the world. You all made a difference. Not just today but every day. I thank you."

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