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Growing up Black in Dudley and Webster

By Janet Stoica

Abigail Cooper of Dudley knew she wanted to do something after learning about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  As many of us know, this past May Mr. Floyd was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer after being arrested and he died soon after. Mr. Floyd’s autopsy results concluded that the excess pressure from the officer’s knee on his neck caused his death. His death was the catalyst for protests around the country and the world about police violence against Black people.   

“I wanted to attend the Worcester Black Lives Matter march,” said 15-year-old Abigail, “but my parents said ‘no.’ Also, because I wasn’t able to contribute monetarily to the cause, I felt that I had to do something.”

Abigail and her brother, Benjamin, a Nichols College graduate, decided that having a protest walk from the French River Bridge on the Dudley-Webster line to the Webster Town Hall would be a viable awareness campaign.  They set up a meeting with Webster Police Chief Michael Shaw to discuss what they proposed. Chief Shaw provided information to them and the event was scheduled for June 6. Abigail and Benjamin then returned home and told their parents what their plans were. The couple were very concerned about their children’s welfare and were not as pleased as Abigail had hoped.

“On the day of the march, I woke up really nervous and couldn’t eat breakfast,” said Abigail. “Threats had been made against us and one business along our route had boarded up its windows as they must’ve expected violence.  We noticed later that a few other businesses that weren’t along our walking route had also boarded up their windows. When we arrived at the starting point near the bridge, we saw a very large crowd of people. They were all quiet. Using the microphone and speakers that were loaned to us, my brother and I spoke about how this was to be a peaceful demonstration and that we wanted no violence.”  As it turned out the protest march was peaceful, orderly, and served its purpose. “Even the rain held off until the event was concluded,” she said.

“I had never organized anything like this before,” said Abigail. “I was so anxious about how the protest march would turn out and I was wanting to see its conclusion as soon as possible. I didn’t know if people knew I was a 15-year old. As a black girl growing up I was made fun of for the color of my skin and the way my hair grew. It was tough. Even in the younger grades here I struggled with colorism. I was sometimes called ‘ratchet’ by the white boys in Dudley elementary school.” Colorism is prejudice and discrimination based on skin tone and widespread across all genders and groups of color. Ratchet is a slang term that is a negative portrayal of an African-American female.

Abigail has many wonderful friends of all colors, she was proud to note. “My friends are Dominican, Indian, and white,” she said, “and they were all marching with us in our protest. They are the people who are educated on Black things and they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.”

Abigail also elaborated on the fact that until last December she would straighten her naturally curly hair, which ruined her hair’s beauty.  Now, she has it curled beautifully and it looks stunning.

“This march really opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone is welcoming,” she said. “It showed people’s true colors and I saw that not everyone would be on the same page as me. At the same time, however, it also showed me that people really do care as many walkers came from outside of Dudley and Webster. I felt that the protest made people more aware of the Black person’s situation.  I look forward to writing an English paper on my experience and now realize that anyone can do anything they put their minds to.”

Abigail hopes to pursue political science and in the future looks to become an immigration and defense lawyer. She attends Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley and enjoys track and soccer.