When thousands marched on Washington in 1963, Howard Luckett says he felt hopeful. Two years later, when hundreds of civil rights activists marched from Selma, Ala., to the state capital of Montgomery, he felt another spark of hope.
“I look around, and it’s still going on,” said Luckett, who is now 92, standing at a protest outside his retirement home in West Roxbury Monday night. “But this time, it feels different.”
Luckett joined about 20 other residents, ranging in age from 65 to 95 years old, outside the Sophia Snow retirement home for a vigil in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The proverbial straw was the video of George Floyd, which absolutely touched everyone,” Luckett said, referring to the Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in June. “It’s just been going on for so long. It has to stop.”
Resident Carmen Dillon, who grew up in Dorchester and spent the last 90 years in Massachusetts, said she was protesting to bring more attention to problems of racism on a local scale. “It's already known across the United States that Boston, Massachusetts, is not a welcoming city,” Dillon said. “We live in two different worlds.”
Dillon has two daughters and three grandchildren who live in Atlanta, Georgia and New York.
“I made sure that they left Massachusetts,” Dillon said. “In Massachusetts, what happens to Black people, you lose your sense of self-worth, your confidence. It's all destroyed, even before you start school.”
The small group of residents left the safety of their living quarters, or what protest organizer and resident Ruth Klepper described as “our hermetically sealed pod,” to stand out on the side of the road with signs reading, “Black Lives Matter” and “We stand with you.”
Ruth Klepper helped organize the protest after several fellow residents sought a way to show support for the ongoing movement in the wake of George Floyd’s death. “We are elders and we are too old to march,” Klepper said, “but we are not too old to shout out and have a voice, to support the end of racism.”
Klepper, who is 90 years old, has spent most of her life involved in civil rights work and politics, protesting against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, working on John F. Kennedy’s first presidential campaign, and serving as the director for a Planned Parenthood chapter during the 1970s in upstate New York.
“I have found that people tend to say, 'Oh, I'm not political,' and I say, What do you mean you’re not political?” Klepper said. “If you don't do the right thing, you have to live with it. You don’t have the right to complain if you haven't participated.”
Residents organized a similar action last month after sending out a letter to Boston legislators, Mayor Marty Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker and several newspapers. “We have seen much historical and institutional racism during our lives, and we pray that we will see these necessary changes in our own lifetimes,” the letter read. “We want no more George Floyds to mourn. This is why we must act.”
In response, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins sent a letter of thanks to the residents. “Your sage wisdom, lived experience and valuable guidance will help push today’s movement forward,” she wrote, “and force the change we seek.”
For the residents of Sophia Snow, this means they’ll continue to send letters and to protest in the safest way they can. “We should not be out here, actually, proving this,” resident Barbara Smith said. “It should be obvious. I'm here because it is necessary.”
And as much as a younger generation of protesters have inspired residents like Howard Luckett with new hope, the older generation says they intend to return the favor.
“My parents went through it, my grandparents, and their parents,” Luckett said. “It's not pleasant to think that my great-grandchildren are going to go through it. So anything that I can do with the time that I have left, I want to be able to do it.”