As vigils and marches continued in Boston over the weekend, hundreds of suburban residents gathered in communities outside the city to protest against police brutality and systemic racism.

Among the about 200 people who met on a baseball field at Emerson Park in Peabody, Saturday morning were Kristle Deforge and Jerry Ullman, a couple in their 30s.

“Assuming that black people need to fix this problem is part of why it’s still such a big issue,” Kristle said. “I think more people need to recognize that if you’re white, you do have privilege in our society.”

“We need to get others involved and not stay silent,” Ullman said.

Jay Carey, a black man who came to Peabody with his 8 year-old-son, Jay Jr., praised that urge to speak out.

“I think it’s so important for people to understand and recognize that silence is license," Carey said, adding that he takes heart in the fact white people in communities like Peabody are turning out for protests.

Carey reflected on how his son might be treated by police in the years to come.

“I think this is a powerful time for us to try to stand up and rally to make change," he said, "so that by the time he’s old enough to be perceived as a threat and less of a cute little kid, hopefully things will be different."

The Peabody rally was organized by Nicolas Blaisdell, a 22-year-old white man who was inspired by protests in bigger cities.

“A few friends and I got together and said, Peabody needs to be doing something about this.”

During the two-hour protest, Blaisdell led chants of “Black Lives Matter,” and introduced a series of speakers, including Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, members of the clergy and young residents of color who shared their experiences of racism in Peabody.

Cynthia Aroke, the event's final speaker, urged the white people in attendance to stay engaged.

“You don’t have to do everything, but please, do something,” Aroke said. “Have that hard conversation. Check your uncle on Facebook. Check in on your black friends. Take care and restore yourself. Keep going to rallies and protests. Keep fighting. We cannot stop, we will not stop, until we see change.”

Following Aroke’s speech, Blaisdell called on those in attendance to observe eight minutes and 46 second of silence — the length of time that Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck. Demonstrators across the diamond took a knee, with only Peabody police officers staying on their feet as they observed the rally from the outfield.

Framingham High School teachers attend a Black Lives Matter rally organized by students in Framingham on Saturday, June 13 2020.
WGBH News/Matt Baskin

Protests like this one in suburban neighborhoods have become more common during the past three weeks since Floyd's death. In addition to Peabody, several other suburban communities saw gatherings this weekend, including in Framingham, where hundreds of people lined the edge of the Framingham Centre Common, chanting slogans and holding signs as passing cars honked in support.

The crowd trended younger and more diverse than that in Peabody, but among the older attendees was Larry Floyd, who is white and old enough to remember the protests of the 1960s. Pulling out his iPhone, Floyd noted that technology has made it harder for people like him to look away from racism and police brutality.

“The cell phone video has brought the reality into the homes,” Floyd said, “much like it did when they turned the dogs on the Civil Rights workers back in the sixties. You had to face the injustice.”

The Framingham rally was organized by students from the city’s high school, including recently graduated senior Mira Donaldson. The founder and outgoing president of the school’s Black Student Union, Donaldson said the protest was meant to draw attention to systemic racism on both the national and local level.

“We’re trying to call awareness to injustices right in our town, right in our school, and show people that this is happening right here," Donaldson said. "Not just across the country, not just in the South, but here, right now, where you live.”

Donaldson and her fellow organizers outlined a list of demands, including a broader curriculum, a more diverse faculty and the removal of police officers from Framingham High School.

Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer, the first and only black woman ever elected to lead a Massachusetts city, said she was open to the idea of pulling officers out of the high school.

“For children to go to school every day and feel as if they’re under siege is not what I want to happen in Framingham,” Spicer said.

After an hour of rallying at the side of the road, demonstrators marched to the middle of the common, where speakers ranging from students to elected officials addressed the crowd. Donaldson, the final speaker, climbed onto the picnic table to give a speech decrying systemic racism and individual prejudice.

“I am angry,” she said. “I am angry because my people are constantly disenfranchised and nobody listens. I am angry because even in Framingham, when I take a walk with my family, someone has to say ‘why are you here?’ I am angry because I deserve to be heard.”

Donaldson called for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, just as organizers in Peabody had, and she took a knee on the picnic table while demonstrators knelt in the grass. The long quiet was ended when the timer on Donaldson’s phone began to buzz. Standing back up, she concluded the rally by reading the Maya Angelou poem, “Still I Rise”: “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise. Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear, I rise. Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”