Albany Times Union
Rallies quiet, but film speaks volumes
Hawkins encourages talks about racism in Gloversville area
In 2020, Lashawn Hawkins had watched the murder of George Floyd, and seeing the country rise in protest felt that as a Black woman she had to do something. She founded the organization I Can Breathe and I Will Speak to encourage discussion about racism in her hometown of Gloversville.
“I said … we got to speak to this. And especially because we’re up here (in Gloversville), where nobody is expecting anyone to speak on this,” said Hawkins.
Through her organization, Hawkins aimed to talk about inequalities in the system, while simultaneously improving the public’s relationship with law enforcement agencies. Her work, and the reaction to it, led her to producing a documentary on racism and perceptions in the Gloversville area.
Beginning in June of 2020, Hawkins decided to hold silent protests across Fulton and Montgomery counties. Her first protest was outside the Johnstown Police Department to protest systemic inequalities. Hawkins and others stood in silence for an hour, taking a knee for the final 8 minutes and 43 seconds. She continued to protest outside police and fire departments across the two counties. Anyone who had something to say could write it on a sign and sit in protest in silence with her.
According to Anthony Clay, Gloversville’s police chief, Hawkins’ work was in sync with a neighborhood engagement project that he and his team were already trying to implement.
“With both of those things combined, Lashawn (Hawkins) became a large part of what we’re doing with the neighborhood engagement unit and other community activities,” he said.
At one organized event, Hawkins explained to a city official how she worked and about the young adults she worked with.
“I was expressing to her that I want to be able to show the people here what exactly these kids experience when we’re going out here protesting because a lot of people say we don’t got racism up here,” said Hawkins. “And people wouldn’t say those negative things. So, many people said, ‘No, you’re lying, you’re making it up.’”
At the same time, Osama Mustafa, a videographer and Gloversville native, was working for Fulton County as a contracted videographer. Hawkins reached out to him and asked if he could film some of her protests to record the kind of racism she and the youth she worked with had to experience.
Mustafa agreed, but soon realized that this was bigger than that.
“I sort of convinced her that instead of filming little two-minute videos of her protests that we would work on creating a documentary,” he said. “Which I thought would be more powerful and be something that hasn’t been done in this area.”
The two set up a Gofundme campaign for the necessary money, but only raised half their goal amount. Still, Mustafa felt that this was something that had to be done. Furthermore, as someone who had worked in Palestinian-held areas of the Middle East, he said that he was used to working with a shortage of money.
“It was tough to get any sort of support from anybody,” he said. “(Hawkins) would get frustrated, but I told her this is common. And that I have her back. And we will do this, and we will make it. So yeah, we did it.”
For more than a year, Hawkins and Mustafa sat down to film and edit the 45-minute documentary. The two organized and attended seven protests, including one at the state Capitol in Albany on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The scenes of protest are intercut with interviews with local Black and white youths, and with several officials throughout both counties, all speaking to problems and possible solutions with regards to race.
The finished product, “I Can Breathe and I Will Speak,” was released on Facebook on Juneteenth.
Mustafa wanted to stress that the documentary was not a black-andwhite piece that was antipolice. He also wanted to show the positive side, all the work Hawkins did with the police and how it helped the local community. And that while they did come from a supportive community, it did have this racial side that needed to be addressed.
The two said they have received a lot of positive feedback since their launch.
“We’re glad that we kept it positive, glad that we showed the things that were actually going on wrong,” said Hawkins. “But more so, glad that because we had the chief of police speak in it. So you have a lot of different aspects of what’s going on.”
The documentary is available on Youtube.