FARMINGTON — Farmington has seen two major youth-led protests affiliated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the past two weeks. The organizers plan on continuing to protest despite family pressures while others are now exploring new ways to support the movement throughout the summer.

University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) student Wylie Post, 18, and Mt. Blue High School graduate Jordyn Ridlon, 17, organized Tuesday’s protest at Hippach Field. They were inspired to speak out against racism in their hometown after attending a BLM march in Portland. 

“We’re just trying to shed light on the fact that it is a problem, and it does go on here even if no one talks about it or acknowledges it,” Ridlon said while sitting next to Post at a picnic table at Hippach Field.

Both Ridlon and Post expressed concerns about their primarily white community holding on to what they consider to be dated, racist sentiments. 

“A lot of people in this town, not even necessarily the older people, but people our age drive around with confederate flags hanging off of their truck,” Ridlon said. “And they scream, ‘all lives matter,’ and they just seem to have a huge problem with this and everything that is going on.”

Wylie Post, left, and Jordyn Ridlon organized their first protest on Tuesday at Hippach Field to advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

There has been an echo at these protests for people to engage in difficult conversations with their friends and family about underlying racist comments in everyday conversations. There is also a particular emphasis on youth to establish their own opinions even if they depart from the views of their families.

“I think a really big thing is, a lot of the kids here that have grown up here, have the same mindset as their parents do,” Post said. “And it’s also just important for them to create their own beliefs and speak out for what they believe in which is what we’re doing.”

Both Ridlon and Post said they come from families that do not share the same motivation to make a stand against racism and police brutality. As they organized the protest, Ridlon kept her plans from her grandparents a secret until after the event. 

“They’d be angry. They’d think that it’s not my fight and that I’m causing trouble for myself, but I’m almost an adult,” Ridlon said. “I need to stand up and speak out for what I believe in and not just follow in my old, mindset-having grandparents.”

The main organizer of the protest on June 1, Mt. Blue Middle School student Maya Kellett, 13, did have the support of her mother Nicole Kellett. The duo along with help from Maya Kellett’s friend Avery Jessen spread the word on Facebook about the march.

Farmington Black Lives Matter protest organizers from left to right, Avery Jessen, 12, Maya Kellett, 13, and Nicole Kellett continue their protest efforts at Hippach Field on Tuesday. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

That same day a UMF student and the activist group Mainers for Change were organizing protests as well. The three groups consolidated their efforts and met at the Meetinghouse Park on Main Street. 

“It was sort of all these different people who wanted to make a difference and speak out and organically came together,” Nicole Kellett said in a phone interview.

Maya Kellett also notified the Farmington police department of the event and invited police chief Jack Peck who was the first to speak before the gathered crowd.

“I know as a police professional and leader I need to look at our practices and procedures and make sure we are being fair, honest and transparent to all, without regard to race, religious beliefs or socio-economic status,” Peck said through a megaphone in front of the park gazebo. 

For Maya Kellett, the police presence was a marker that the local department supports the BLM movement.

“I thought it was important to show people that when the chief spoke, for people to know that they know what’s going on, and that they support the protests going on,” Maya Kellett said. “And that they fully disagree with police brutality, and they’re going to do everything in their power to stop what could happen here in Farmington.”

Organizers Post and Ridlon did not invite the police to Hippach Field nor did they notify the department of the protest.

“I feel like it’s not their place to speak right now,” Ridlon said.

The organizers of both protests expressed the desire to see police reformations take place which has been a consistent goal of the BLM movement. 

“If funding needs to be funneled towards other services, I’m all for that,” Chief Peck said in a phone interview. “I think sometimes too much is put on the police. We sometimes are all things to everyone: the opioid crisis, mental health. We deal with all crises intervention, suicide intervention, domestic violence issues. So if there needs to be money diverted away from the police to help serve the community better, then I’m all for it.”

Peck did state that if funding is diverted from the department to other services then that could impact the ability to better train police officers and to maintain a reputable staff. 

The department currently offers voluntary training in the following areas: awareness of cultural diversity, implicit bias and cultural competency, bias-based policing, policing culturally diverse communities and hate crime classification.  

Maya Kellet plans on remaining an active protester until she sees policy changes.

“I think people will still be protesting for a while. I think that hopefully people in power will hopefully make changes before the summer is over,” she said. 

Nicole Kellett plans on utilizing UMF’s Diversity Inclusion Action Team that she is already a part of to organize virtual awareness events. She also hopes to see the team include the wider community so that everyone locally can participate in the group’s evaluation and advocate for change within the Farmington police and UMF campus police departments.

Ridlon and Post also plan on continuing their activist efforts throughout the summer despite the ongoing pandemic.

“I feel like this is more important to me than the coronavirus,” Ridlon said.

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