BROCKVILLE -- A march through downtown Brockville was both peaceful and powerful, as an estimated crowd of over 400 people gathered to fight racial injustice.

The crowd chanted “Black Lives Matter” while marching from the Brockville Courthouse to Brockville City Hall Saturday afternoon.

Organizer Chelsea van Stralen said small communities can be part of the change.

“I think it’s our duty to respond to this here in Brockville and let people know that we no longer stand for oppression, injustice and systemic racism here,” van Stralen said.

“We want to educate people and we want this to be a change.”

The anti-racism marches are now a global movement, set off over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.

Brockville resident Cindy Casselman also helped coordinate the event. Casselman’s father marched with Martin Luther King.

She says she experienced racism just in the last week.

“I just had a racial issue here the other day that broke my heart, but I think the more that we keep talking and educating, the less were going to have that kind of problem,” Casselman said.

“If anything comes out of this today its like it’s happening here. You need to ask the people in your community what is going on. Find out what you can do to help. But mostly, listen.”

The march began at 12:30 p.m. and when protesters arrived City Hall, war veteran Thomas Aoston met them with some words.

“It is about change and it is only when people get collectively outraged that things change and move forward. Just to see this kind of movement, to see police officers come out and support us is great,” Aoston said.

“I appreciate all of those to actually have the guts to come out. It’s a huge thing and appreciated by everyone.”

Some people coming from as far away as Ottawa to denounce police brutality.

“Its just implicit here, its not as explicit as in the United States but we still have a problem...It is just not as obvious,” said one protester.

The march was not sanctioned by the City of Brockville due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but most people were wearing masks and trying to keep physically distanced as much as possible.

Leigh Bursey is a community activist and also sits on Council for the City of Brockville. Bursey wished he could have joined the march, but also noted that the pandemic is still ongoing.

“I’m not the spokesperson for Council but speaking from my own perspective and from what I know, there’s no doubt there was that will and appetite from a number of my colleagues that would have loved to join arms with these folks and stand hand in hand because there is no ignoring systemic racism. This is an issue in communities,” Bursey said.

“Brockville is in a bit of a bubble in that we’ve been able to sort of lay low in terms of particular outbreaks, but this is still a public health emergency,” he added.

“For me as an activist - there has never been a picket line that I haven’t wanted to stand on. And I’m truly hurt today that I can’t be there. It is really bothering me. But I have to understand my role as a Councillor here that public health and safety has to come first. I unfortunately can be there with you and I assure you there are other people in the community who would be if they thought it was appropriate to do so.”

Back at the march, Casselman gave praise to the organizers.

“Something that really touched my heart - people should know that in Brockville, it was a bunch of young white women who originally started this. That speaks loudly to our minority population here. I could not tell you how impressed I am with Chelsea and support from the community. People are stopping me on the street asking me questions when they just want knowledge, no ignorance,” Casselman said.

“As parents we’re responsible to teach this generation and its really bad you need to look on her (Facebook) page today and you’re going to see stories of people who have been racially profiled, who have been hurt in all different ways affected by racism in Brockville and we need to open our eyes to that.” she added.

Van Stralen, grateful with all of the support.

“The turnout has been incredible, overwhelming and absolutely marks the change in Brockville that’s going to happen from this. We paved the way and here we are,” she said.

At City Hall, the crowd dispersed just after 1 p.m. with a few conversations still ongoing.

King Street reopened to traffic and Brockville police cited no issues.