Hundreds walk in Falls Church Black Lives Matter march

girl in mask in front of crowd
Sophomore Ariana Hameed stands masked among other demonstrators at the Falls Church Black Lives Matter Unity Walk. Hameed and sophomore Sarah Ettinger, both lead organizers of the event, urged demonstrators to sign petitions and donate at the conclusion of the walk. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

On Thursday, June 4, hundreds of George Mason students and other Falls Church community members participated in the Falls Church Black Lives Matter Unity Walk. The event was organized by sophomores Ariana Hameed and Sarah Ettinger.

The march was one of many demonstrations throughout the country following the death of George Floyd and the ensuing national dialogue about racism and police brutality.

sign that says "black lives matter" in a crowd
Demonstrators flash signs towards onlookers. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

At the beginning of the march, Mason sophomores Pariss Quaintance and Ben Yimaj and senior Kaia Jefferson spoke, as did Ettinger and Hameed, Falls Church City Mayor David Tarter, and police captain Stephen Rau.

 “I am shocked at the ignorance that plagues many of our citizens who say that oppression against people of color doesn’t exist and that systemic racism is a hoax,” Jefferson said in her speech. “We are all here today because we believe that our country needs to do a better job at protecting the rights of all citizens, not just people lucky enough to be born with privilege.”

“As a Muslim, I feel a tiny bit of the judgment and discrimination black people feel while wearing my hijab. But this discrimination pales in comparison to the fear that black people experience every single day. But even if I can’t walk in your shoes, I will walk with you,” Hameed said.

“As a white teenaged girl living in NoVA [Northern Virginia], I am well aware of the privileges that have been afforded to me because of the color of my skin. It is time for white people to stand behind and with our black friends, neighbors, and those we haven’t met…Black kids are forced to do more with less. It’s time for us to be allies,” Ettinger said in her speech.

Reflecting on the march, Quaintance said that “right now, the system is fractured and we have to fix it. And if you don’t agree that it is broken I don’t understand how you can stand behind a flag that stands for justice and justice for all.”

girls speak over crowd
Sophomores Ariana Hameed and Sarah Ettinger deliver a crowd-rousing opening speech at West End Park. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

Hameed and Ettinger worked throughout the week to organize the event. “It was a crazy, spur of the moment sort of thing. Originally we were thinking [the march would be] like 60 people, which was exceeded by so much,” Hameed said.

The march was publicized through social media, and Eventbrite was used for registration to keep track of numbers. 

According to Hameed, the pair called the city police every day with updates about their plans and to develop a route for the march, which went along Park Avenue, Little Falls Street, Great Falls Street, Lincoln Avenue, and a small part of West Street. City Council member Letty Hardi and Mayor Tarter also lent their support to Hameed and Ettinger.

Hameed and Ettinger were conscious of COVID-19 public health concerns associated with the large gathering. Attendees were asked to wear masks and maintain social distance throughout the march. Some community members provided water and hand sanitizer to marchers.

table in driveway with water
A Falls Church community member set up a table with water and hand sanitizer for demonstrators. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

Dozens of Mason students participated. 

Junior Umika Pathak explained why she marched: “I’ve been getting lost in all the social media information [about the Black Lives Matter movement]…but I think the physical contribution to the movement is really important.”

“I was super surprised to see the volume of people that were there. I don’t know if I was expecting Falls Church to turn out in such numbers. I saw the elderly, I saw kids and their little signs, and people were engaging in those important conversations that need to be happening,” Pathak said.

“I marched today to show my support for the Black Lives Matter movement. It was really refreshing to see my community coming together to support a cause that should have been resolved long ago,” sophomore Dylan Petrillo said.

“When we got on Park Avenue, it really hit me right then that we were marching with 500+ people behind us,” Hameed said. “All these people were coming out and supporting with signs. It was really great to be there with my community.”

crowd marches down street
Demonstrators march down Great Falls street. “I was super surprised by the volume of people that were there,” junior Umika Pathak said. (Photo by Charlie Adams)


marchers with signs that say black lives matter
Residents of all ages were well represented during the walk, but especially students. (Photo by Charlie Adams)

FCCPS faculty and administration participated in the march as well. 

“It was totally amazing. To see that this was a student led, student organized event that brought out over 500 people. It was incredible,” superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan said. “I really believe the way out of a lot of what we’re experiencing is through our youth and I want to do everything I can to support.”

Dr. Noonan also noted what FCCPS is doing to address racial inequities in the school system: “We’ve just changed one of our positions in the central office in the last few months to be the Director of Equity. Also, the school board will be looking at all of our policies over the course of the year to make sure that everything we do and everything we teach are taught through the lens of equity.”

“Today the students led the entire city,” GMHS biology teacher Ms. Kishwar Rafique said on Twitter. “I am proud to be their teacher but today I was prouder to be their companion in this fight for humanity.”

Check out more photos from the march: