PROVINCETOWN — Though passers-by were chatting, bicycle bells were ringing, and the sounds of cars, strollers, and dogs filled the air, the silence from protesters still felt audible, as if it had a presence all its own. Silence is powerful, said Pastor Brenda Haywood, the leader of Racial Justice Provincetown.
“Even though we’re silent, you can feel the energy,” Haywood said. “Often, you want to speak to people passing by, especially when they’re showing kindness, but it’s so much more dramatic when you don’t speak.”
Thirty-five people lined up with signs in front of town hall on Oct. 3, and the effect was undeniable. Silence is serious. It has gravity. Whether it feels like a funeral, a prayer, or a deep and considered thought, it expresses something beyond words.
Racial Justice Provincetown has held a vigil on the first Saturday of every month since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25. But Haywood has been doing racial justice organizing all her life.
“I grew up in what’s called ‘the Village’ in Newton, Mass., which was established by escaping slaves from the South. That history is still there,” said Haywood. “When I was eight years old, we went to Saturday classes in black history in a college professor’s home. They thought we wouldn’t be taught about black leaders in regular school — and they were right. When I stood up to speak in my elementary school, I was told to sit back down. I didn’t.
“It’s been a lifetime journey,” Haywood continued. “I’ve been in Provincetown for 30 years. This community has grown a lot.”
One definite change has been an increasing awareness of indigenous peoples. Haywood has been outspoken about the need for a Wampanoag memorial. At town meeting last month, Provincetown allocated money to hire an indigenous representation specialist who will recommend at least one public art project to the town.
On Oct. 12, which is Columbus Day nationwide and Indigenous Peoples’ Day in some jurisdictions — including Provincetown — turnout for that day’s silent vigil was smaller, dampened perhaps by a cold wind. The air was still serious, though.
Protesters stood or knelt without exchanging a word, and even amid the sounds of Commercial Street, their silence was easy to hear.