Maeve Allen
       In the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic struck our nation, confining people to their homes, glued to their television and cell phone screens. But the world wasn’t just fighting a medical battle, it was simultaneously fighting for civic and social change. Black Lives Matter protests unfolded across the country in response to the the explosive media coverage, exposing scenes of death, discrimination, and injustice against Black Lives. Shared frustration and anger powerfully magnified this national issue, and people began to unify and mobilize to demand change.
      Here in Beacon, New York, a group of young people decided it was our community’s time for action - and Beacon 4 Black Lives was born.
     I sat down with Justice McCray (they/them), one of the members of the organization who has been a forceful advocate for the people in Beacon -and has no plans to slow down anytime soon.

MA: So how did you get involved with Beacon 4 Black Lives?

JM: The first protest was on June 1st, 2020 and I was super inspired by it. I hadn’t been leaving my house at all and it was the first time I felt like my black life mattered. I felt like there was love there and I didn’t want to let that go. Between that first protest and the next one on June 6th, I just became more and more involved.

MA: How did that happen?

JM: I have graphic design skills, so I started creating posters for them. At the second protest I met up with the organizers and was like, “What’s the plan?” They didn’t really know, so I was like, let me help you get organized and after that, we became Beacon 4 Black Lives.

MA: What is Beacon 4 Black Lives? How would you describe it to someone who’s never heard of it before?

JM: Part of me wants to call us a mutual aid group because we’re not only creating protests, we’re also putting on community events and doing mutual aid work.

MA: Oh wow, that’s amazing! I thought you guys just did the protests - how did the mutual aid work come to be?

JM: Originally, we thought we were just going to be helping to organize the protests and more seasoned activists would take the lead in making things better. But then we realized that the community was looking to us. We were creating this stage, this platform for people to talk about what their issues were, what was happening, what their struggles were. The community was looking to us for what happens next.

MA: So what happened next? What kind of issues were coming up?

JM: We were hearing so many people who were struggling with food and housing insecurity and a lack of wifi here in Beacon. So we put some demands together and brought them to city council. Beacon 4 Black Lives, along with members of the community, got very involved in the budget process last year to get money invested in things such as food security and municipal broadband spending.

MA: Municipal broadband spending?

JM: For wifi! The reason we were pushing for wifi specifically, is because one, that is something that I didn’t even realize so many people didn’t have access to. Secondly, it was something that was coming up again and again, especially with students doing remote learning. Especially lower income black and brown students, who are then getting marginalized and having less access to an education now. So what we ended up doing is we were able to get wifi at Memorial Park for free on the first day of school.

MA: How has the town of Beacon responded to the work you’re doing?

JM: Everyone’s been very supportive, incredibly supportive. We’ve had so many local businesses donate food, services, goods - anything they had to offer. For almost every event Key Food has donated food and water. Meyer’s Old Dutch and Kitchen Sink cooked and donated food for some of our events. Acuprint has given us deep discounts and even sometimes free posters, which was so generous, they didn’t have to do that. We wanted to support a black owned business and lots of local businesses have donated money to help make events happen.

MA: What’s been one of your favorite events?

JM: At one of my favorite protests that we did, Flora Good Times donated 100 bouquets. We put a black name of someone who had been murdered on each bouquet and we had a little vigil. Instead of holding signs, everyone was holding bouquets. We marched with the bouquets in the rain and when we got to memorial park, Xavier read off the names. As he read off the names, if the name matched the name on the bouquet, you would go leave the bouquet on the stage for them. That was really emotional for me.

MA: Does Beacon 4 Black Lives have any plans for the summer?

JM: It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen next because we came up out of need. As for right now, I think Beacon 4 Black Lives is just coming out of the winter and trying to recalibrate itself with the community at this point. One of the things I suggested that the team is excited about is getting more people to be an interactive part of Beacon 4 Black Lives. One of the projects we had been working on recently is getting tutors for students. We’re also working with this grassroots organization, they’re basically a housing group that is working to prevent evictions. Oh, and Paloma and I are running for city council.

MA: City council?? What, that’s incredible!!

JM: It’s not something that I planned on doing. But you know, we were calling into city council every week, demanding changes for people in the community. I started thinking, why do I have to be this middle person when I can just get it done myself?

MA: What are some of your goals if/when you win?

JM: I want to reimagine community safety. I want to directly address the housing insecurity here in Beacon, especially with all the gentrification going on. I mean, there is so much focus on helping developers and getting more people in, without taking care of the people who are already here. I want it to be a place where people can not just exist, but live. I think we all deserve to have our basic needs met. The resources are there, it’s just a matter of the willpower to make sure that happens. Once I become a member of the city council, I’m cutting my hours back at work. I want this to be my full time job, I’m already invested. I’m already doing the work. It's about having the power to advance the work.

This will be the first time someone of their age runs for Beacon City Council. Change takes time, but adding a voice like Justice McCray’s to the fight, is certainly a good place to start.

Follow Justice as they embark on their journey to becoming a city council member!


As well as the Beacon 4 Black Lives Instagram account for updates on protests, community events and more!