ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Protesters took to the roads in Atlantic City on Friday regarding two of the biggest crises facing the nation: racial injustice and the coronavirus.
In separate rallies, young residents staged a "We are done dying" protest and car caravan, shortly after casino workers got behind the wheels of their own vehicles to demand continued health insurance from casinos that remain shuttered due to the virus.
The racial justice protest, organized by the Atlantic City NAACP chapter, was billed as a way for young residents to speak their minds.
"All lives can't matter if we don't matter," said Zaniyah Chappell, an eighth-grader. "I want to grow up. We are your future doctors, lawyers, police officers, judges. I am determined to be heard. I want to be confident I won't be gunned down in my own home. I want to breathe, too."
Marvin Burroughs, an elementary school student, read a speech titled "I am a Black boy."
"I am a smart Black boy," he said. "I am a sweet Black boy. I am a hoodie-wearing Black boy. I am an innocent Black boy. I am a Black boy with dreams. I am a Black boy with talent. And regardless of all the great things I do, some people fear this Black boy."
"They see us as people who won't succeed, people who are potentially violent, people who don't belong," added Dayshawn Williams a senior at Atlantic City High School. "Because of them, we are dying."
Avery Oliver, a junior at the high school, spoke of being tired.
"I'm tired of creating hashtags and calling for justice," she said. "I thought that was something the government was supposed to take care of. We've been asleep, but now we're awake, and they don't like that."
After the speeches outside the Martin Luther King Jr. School, about 30 vehicles drove slowly through the streets bearing signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and calling for an end to racial injustice.
About two hours earlier, another car caravan also snaked its way through the streets, consisting of laid-off casino workers worried about the impending cut-off of their health insurance at the end of June. They called on MGM and Caesars Entertainment, which own a combined four Atlantic City casinos, including the top-performing Borgata, to extend health coverage for as long as the casinos remain shut during the pandemic. There is still no reopening date set for Atlantic City's nine casinos.
Mustering in a narrow strip between the east and westbound lanes of the Atlantic City Expressway, where casino workers used to park their personal cars and board shuttles to work decades ago before the practice was abandoned, members of Local 54 of the Unite Here union lined up 300 cars in a caravan that slowly wound its way around the Borgata, owned by MGM, and Harrah's, owned by Caesars Entertainment.
Mineli Polanco, a beverage server at the Borgata, said she is worried about she or a family member getting sick with the coronavirus, and having no health insurance to cover it.
"It's been a struggle trying to keep ourselves and our families safe, tutoring our kids, going to the store and trying not to get sick, and telling your kids, 'wash your hands!' every three minutes," she said. "We don't cook as much, and absolutely nothing gets wasted. We conserve everything we can. We need to feel that we can go back to work and be covered in case anything happens."
MGM said it is working with the union to reach an agreement on extending health coverage. Caesars Entertainment declined comment.