Local Black woman who organized march earns Peace Medal

Jillian Lyman accepted the YMCA Owen Sound Grey Bruce Peace Medal Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Owen Sound, Ont. for organizing a Black Lives Matter solidarity march in June. (Michael McLuhan photo)

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Local Black Lives Matter march organizer Jill Lyman is the 2020 Owen Sound Grey Bruce YMCA Peace Medal recipient.

Hundreds of people marched through downtown Owen Sound June 10 and on to the Black History Cairn in Harrison Park to attend a rally Lyman organized against racism, police brutality and injustice.

Participants collectively knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was pinned by the neck under a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee before Floyd died.

Lyman, a Black 19-year-old Laurier University student attending virtually from her Owen Sound home, was awarded the medal for mobilizing the community in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lyman’s remarks Wednesday, when she received the award, were recorded on a video of the event, found on the Y’s Facebook site.

“It was a great opportunity and a great moment in my life to see that many people come out and support a cause that was so close to my heart.”

She said all who came out to the march deserve the award too, “because we all demonstrated peace that day and the care for everyone in the community, in the Black community, the Indigenous community, the Asian community.”

She said Friday by phone she’s happy the march hasn’t been forgotten. “I’m glad it’s still a memory in people’s heads.”

Her march experience caused her to switch her sociology courses to better align with racial and gender inequalities. “It’s definitely changed my perspective on what I want to do,” she said. “I want to spread the word even more than just in Owen Sound.”

Lyman organized the event after her plans to attend a similar march in Waterloo fell through. At the cairn, she told people their march was the beginning, not the end of their efforts for justice.

The local turnout was huge, particularly during the ongoing pandemic on a sweltering day, when public health advice at the time limited gatherings to five people. Attendees wore masks and the Owen Sound Police Service brought extra.

Y Peace Medal committee member Michael McLuhan said at the medal presentation that Lyman embodied the values symbolized by the medal and the acronym PEACE (Participation, Empathy, Advocacy, Community and Empowerment).

She showed “incredible poise and determination in organizing, marching and speaking for this cause,” he said.

She encouraged community participation, where people voiced their experiences, protested injustices and by doing so, encouraged compassion, McLuhan said. Her advocacy was for justice for her own Black community but also others.

“Jillian’s march brought together more than 1,000 members of our small community in support of the movement,” he said. “I’ve never seen more than 250 come out to a march in the past.”

“Jillian urged the community to continue the work to fight racism inequity by posting signs on their lawns and in their windows, donating to the cause and keeping the conversation going.”

Lisa McAllister, who nominated Lyman and is her friend, said in a YMCA news release: “She wanted to make a difference in rural Ontario, where so many think turmoil and race relations are non-existent. The magnitude of such an event in Owen Sound was profound for all involved.”

Lyman is among the 23 people and 12 groups who have been awarded Peace Medals in Grey-Bruce.

Medal recipients are those who without special resources demonstrate a commitment to the values of PEACE through contributions locally, nationally or globally.

Participants of the Owen Sound Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter on June 10, 2020 kneel together at the Owen Sound Black History Cairn in honour of George Floyd. DENIS LANGLOIS

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