BLACK LIVES MATTER

What Does the 4th of July Look Like in 2020?

Photo courtesy of Serichai Traipoom

This year’s Fourth of July marked a reclamation of the holiday. Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in lieu of gathering for the traditional festivities of barbecues, picnics, and fireworks for a series of protests that, like so many which have proliferated over the past month, served as an educational opportunity to hear the voices and stories of emerging leaders and communities pushing for social change. Organizers across the city arranged demonstrations to echo the growing calls for an end to racial inequality, police violence, and the systemic oppression of Black people. One such protest was the Unite NY Rally and March, organized by the youth organization Unite New York, and Freedom March NYC, a protest group led by two Black Columbia University alumnae, Chelsea Miller and Nialah Edari. Attendees gathered on Saturday in Madison Square Park before marching downtown; upon entering Washington Square Park, the group joined with another rally organized by youth-led collective Warriors in the Garden and Strategy for Black Lives. The mass moved to Foley Square and eventually over the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, speakers discussed Black people and other marginalized groups’ plights and contributions being suppressed in the larger American narrative, noting that the very ground they walked on was land taken from Indigenous peoples. Photographer Serichai Traipoom marched with the groups, documenting the day and interviewing organizers and attendees, and ultimately ending up at Washington Square Park, where the Interdependence Day celebration took place. See their journey across the boroughs, below.

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“We’re out here today because we know that July 4th is supposed to be a symbol of freedom, but that freedom has never been applicable to all. We’re out here to hold our country accountable, to fight for systemic change and to really make sure that people know this is just the beginning of this movement. We need to make sure that every single day we are coming out here and we are reckoning with the history that so many times has oppressed people of color and Indigenous people.” —Chelsea Miller (2nd from left), Co-Founder of Freedom March NYC at the Unite NY Rally and March in Madison Square Park. Also pictured, Nia White (left), Co-Founder of Freedom March NYC and other members the organization. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“This holiday is just so hypocritical to me. It is a story about independence—they used slaves to fight for their independence, but didn’t fight for the slaves. African-Americans, who have been fighting for this country since the beginning, have never received equality and equity. This is a stolen land, built on the backs of slaves, and we never got any form of reparations or any form of dignity. Our history has been stolen from us, our culture has been stolen from us, and America will not acknowledge this, so this is how we make them acknowledge it. We cancel and boycott their July 4th, until we have a real holiday and a real country that represents everyone.” —Clive Destiny, member of Unite NY 2020 at the UNITE NY Rally and March in Madison Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Honestly, the 4th of July this year doesn’t really mean too much to me, because it’s ‘Independence Day,’ yet there are so many people who do not have independence. They can’t live normally, like a free [person]. This country claims that people do, but I’m out here to show that it’s complete bullshit. We need to fight for everyone to be independent; that’s what I’m out here today for, because there is no independence. That is what we’re supposed to be fighting for right now.” —Honor at the UNITE NY Rally and March in Madison Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Bicylists have been an integral part of the protest scene, riding ahead of marchers to stop traffic to ensure safety for the group. Seen here, bike protesters halt traffic on 5th Avenue for the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“This year, it feels like just another day. We’re out here fighting for the same thing we have been fighting for. The 4th of July has lost a lot of its impact for me and I think that is a statement in and of itself. It no longer feels like a day I can celebrate the same way. I’m happier celebrating this unity than I am celebrating a [supposed] ‘liberation’ that kept me in bondage. It solidified, in a systemic way, a bondage that was painted to be freedom. This is a day when the blatant contradiction of the US government is revealed even more clearly to me, because we are not free. When [the Declaration of Independence] said “all men are created equal” they meant all white men are created equal, because we were still enslaved. Today means a day of uniting and fighting to do the most American thing, which is to revolt against a system that does not support the people.” —Justin Withers at the Unite NY Rally and March in Madison Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I’m not celebrating. I’m out here reminding folks that today is not a day to celebrate because right now everything that we say the 4th of July is suppose to be about is untrue. It’s a farce in America, and I think today is a day for fierce accountability, for righteous indignation. I’m challenging folks to keep that energy, not just today, but tomorrow, and every tomorrow, until we have a 4th of July that is worth celebrating, until we have a country of equity and opportunity, where everybody is free.” —Ryann Richardson, the current Miss Black America at the Unite NY March and Rally in Madison Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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The Flatiron building as protestors with the Unite NY Rally and March begin heading south from Madison Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protestors pausing to let an emergency vehicle pass on 14th Street during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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The Unite NY Rally and March enters Washington Square Park, where they joined other protesters organized by Warriors in the Garden and Strategy for Black Lives. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Indigenous rights and stolen land were among the topics discussed by organizers, drawing a line between the intersectionality of oppression of non-white people in the United States. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I think that the American dream is very seductive and romantic. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was promised, but not for everybody. I feel like a lot of people are trying to protect this day, are trying to protect its values, but at the end of the day, we want the same values, and that’s all we’re fighting for: equality. We’re here to show people that we’re not fighting against you, we believe in the American dream, we just want it for ourselves as well. It’s about equality, and that’s really it. —Livia Rose Johnson, a member of Warriors in the Garden in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“We’re here as an organization, Strategy for Black Lives, to make it understood that as a country, we cannot celebrate this day until all people are free. Black people, trans people, differently able-bodied people are dying in the streets in ridiculous numbers and there is no justice and no accountability. Until that happens, we can’t celebrate the freedoms that this country was founded on, because that would be hypocritical.” —Frantzy Luzincourt (left) pictured with Travis Nelson (right), both members of the Strategy for Black Lives in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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In a symbolic gesture, gatherers burn pages of a US history book, calling into question what’s being taught in American schools—an educational system that, organizers pointed out, neglects to tell the history of marginalized groups and their oppressors. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“The country is changing. We’re not celebrating July 4th and ignorance anymore. We realize that today, Black lives are still not held with the same equality that white lives are. Racial prejudice and police brutality continue to exist and the cops who kill Black lives are not being held accountable. There are kids in cages held by I.C.E. and they’re not free. Freedom is no longer on July 4th; Black people’s freedom is now on Juneteenth. We’re not here to celebrate, we’re here to fight against a country that tells us today is our Independence Day. We don’t believe that it’s our independence day anymore. Our founding fathers had slaves, and even though they said everyone in the country is equal, we don’t believe that anymore.” —Perris Howard at the Unite NY Rally and March in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters “take a knee” while organizers speak in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Independence day, for me, is to speak up as a Black person, to represent what I’m doing and what I’m running for. I’m running for City Council District 36 and I think every day that we are out here, we’re expressing what our democracy looks like. My mission today with Warriors in the Garden is to represent my next mission in running for public office, to inspire other people to run for office, and trying to get that message out there while I’m with all of the various groups that are here.” —Chi Ossé, co-founder of Warriors in the Garden in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“We’re not celebrating. I think all of us can agree that there’s nothing to celebrate when you’re really mad at your country. I think by what has happened that past few months, weeks, years, it’s about time we ask our system, our education and our country to reflect on what it means to live here—to be a person of color, be a Black person, and to honor their histories. The fact our system has chosen, hand-picked, which history for us to learn is so beyond wrong and we owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves in Black and people of colors’ history and why we’re here.” —Alaina Zuñiga, member of Unite New York in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“We are basically reclaiming Independence Day. July 4th should be known as a day that people were forgotten. We celebrate the day of independence, but there was truly no independence for most people in America. Black Americans, Native Americans and Latin Americans never received justice, so there is no freedom.” —Cindy Kamdchoum, member of Warriors in the Garden, marching through Greenwich Village. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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A message from a bicyclist during the Unite NY Rally and March in Greenwich Village. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters cross Houston on Broadway, entering NYC’s SoHo neighborhood during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Street art in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Something that has resonated with me is how taken aback I was in college, when I took a class on the history of African0American literature and went in-depth for the first time on slave narratives, and how many women—bi-racial women—were victims simply by being house slaves. I was really horrified that Black people in this country learn their history as being oppressed by White people with no empowerment to that narrative whatsoever. There’s total avoidance of all of the geniuses who taught themselves, in the most dire circumstances, to read and how to tell the story, the people that tried to create a different narrative when they were still oppressed. I am so happy that we are burning the textbooks—we have all been taught a bunch of lies, whether white supremacy was covert or more obvious, it’s deeply ingrained in the education system in this country and in holidays that really represent white freedom. There’s nowhere I’d rather be this year.” —Theadora Curtis during the Unite NY Rally and March on Broadway in SoHo. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I’m out here because as Black people, we have never been heard. The Fourth of July has been celebrated for years upon years, but it’s not for Black people. Black people weren’t cared for back then, and we’re still not cared for now so we’re marching in the streets to show everyone that we’re not done, we’re going to keep marching and that we have a reason to be here.” —Aloaye Tisor, member of Strategies for Black Lives marching in Chinatown during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Today is just another day. My holiday was Juneteenth, the real Independence Day. I’m out here to let my voice be heard and to give support to my fellow people of color. This system has been going on for way too long, now we have some momentum and we’ve got to keep it up.” —Jai, Co-Founder of Warriors in the Garden in Chinatown. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“For me, it means to rise up against and to take ownership and agency over the narrative. To really question our very foundations and to reclaim them for our own. Right now, with Black Lives Matter happening, it’s about destroying white supremacy.” —Mus (left) “It’s a part of our freedom to stand up and march together. Earlier today at Washington Square Park, we sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” because it is a part of American democracy for us to rise up and do what we’re doing today, to show that we are not going to stand for the injustices that are going on.” —Christina Francis (right) on Broadway in SoHo during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Bicyclists have come up with a wireless PA system to amplify the voices of organizers while marching. Volunteers are also positioned throughout the march’s route, offering water, masks, and hand sanitizer to ensure participants’ safety. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Fourth of July in general doesn’t mean much to me, other than good barbecue and fireworks. But today, we’re taking a stand. We also did this on Juneteenth as kind of a Black pride and Black remembrance, almost as an anti-Independence day because Independence Day focuses on freedom—the freedom of every single American—and we’re focusing on every American having those freedoms. I’m with Warriors in the Garden, we’re a collective of activists, and we’re fighting for those same rights, ending police brutality, and shattering every oppressive system that exists here in the United States. I think that is what everyone out here today is doing and focusing on right now. A lot of people are worried about food, picnics and fireworks—we want to bring attention to the vilification of Black bodies and the death of people here in America just because of the color of their skin.” —Dwreck Ingram Jr., co-founder of Warriors in the Garden in Lower Manhattan as the Unite NY Rally and March approaches Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“We are here with the people to fight for real democracy. I’m from Ukraine originally, so for me, it’s really beautiful to see how people are fighting for their rights. I really support all of this, it is exciting how all of these changes are happening. I think this is really, really beautiful, and I like to feel this energy to fight for people’s lives. What is happening in this country is awful and dangerous, but what is happening here in the streets is really beautiful and I think all of us can create change.” —Sasha Knysh at the Unite NY Rally and March in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I’ve been photographing and covering the protests every day. I have been documenting people on the street for almost 10 years, so obviously this cause means a lot to me as a Black man. I’m so heartened that so many people of all different backgrounds have come out to support us in a time like this.” —Simbarashe Cha at the Unite NY Rally and March in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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A protester taking in the magnitude of the group of thousands gathered for the Unite NY Rally and March in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“As a holiday, it means absolutely nothing, it’s just another day. It’s not a special day because there were still people who were enslaved in this country, it wasn’t a free country on July 4th.” —Gaya, member of Warriors in the Garden in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters gather in front of the New York County Supreme Court to listen to Chelsea Miller, co-founder of Freedom March NYC, speak to the crowd during the Unite NY Rally and March in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“It doesn’t mean much this year, ’cause people are dying, people aren’t being treated equally, and we’ve seen it year after year, my whole life. Today is about rising up and continuing to rise everyday until we fix the system.” —Evan Eden of Unofficial Skateboarding in Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Since I’m a person of color, this holiday has never meant much for me or for my family. We’re not celebrated during this day; it seems like white people are celebrated on the Fourth. The reason I’m out here today is to bring awareness to that—I don’t know if white people know that, necessarily. It’s part of our whole message. We are trying to educate the people who are unaware of what’s going on by sharing our stories from all walks of life, especially Black lives and Black women.” —Snacks as the Unite NY Rally and March leaves Foley Square. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I think this holiday is a sham. I stand by my sign. I think anyone who is celebrating today is completely ignorant and oblivious to what is going on in America today. —Nicole Villamil on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Bystanders watch from the walking path above the road on the Brooklyn Bridge as protesters ascend the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge during the Unite NY Rally and March. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Photo courtesy of Serichai Traipoom

A bystander expresses his solidarity with protesters as the Unite NY Rally and March crosses the Brooklyn Bridge. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I’m one of the organizers of this event. We’ve reclaimed, or re-interpreted the holiday, and we’re calling it, Interdependence Day, which was celebrated by the Quakers. There was also an original group of people who proposed this concept to the United Nations years ago with the understanding that we all rely upon each other in society. That’s why we’re here, we wanted to bring people together, everyone’s been separated because of the quarantine. There’s so much hateful rhetoric and divide happening in our nation. The Wide Awakes, is a collective of artists and we’re all about using art to revolutionize society, to make a difference, to empower people, and activate people. We’re putting on these events during the summer to get people outside and feeling good. We have this mantra, ‘Joy is an act of resistance,’ so just by allowing yourself to be happy, you’re defying all of the negativity that’s being thrust upon you.” —Wildcat Ebony Brown, a member of the Wide Awakes organization at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“Unfortunately, the Fourth of July is sort of a reminder of what is lacking in terms of expanding equality for everyone. As a Black, femme, queer woman, it’s always a reminder of the unkept promise that has. Today, I think there’s a potential for us to expand and make that promise available. I’ve been really excited to see Black Lives Matter becoming this interracial, intersectional justice movement. Things like abolishing or defunding the police being mainstream conversations, that gives me hope for the Fourth, but I’d rather do Juneteenth than the Fourth. —Naima Ramos-Chapman, member of the Wide Awakes organization at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“As a person who is a child of immigrants, as a woman, particularly a Black woman, it’s a very complicated day. I think in this moment specifically, we are being called upon to really question the foundations of this holiday and the very notions of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and how far do those actually extend to everyone? The Black Smiths group has produced this event called Interdependence Day, where we’re trying to galvanize people around these ideas through art and music. That’s why we’re here.” —Niama Safia Sandy, a member of the steering committee of The Blacksmiths at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“I believe that we need to reclaim space, as Black and Brown individuals in this society who have been oppressed by white supremacy for far too long. Even the Fourth of July is a symbol of oppression, because when they were celebrating their independence, there were still slaves. Black and Brown people were still oppressed and being violated and not treated as humans, so to see a bunch of us in 2020 reclaiming space and celebrating our own personal individual and freedom is something really fucking else.” —Qween Amor, a pioneer of the LGBTQ+ Protection Act at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“As a Black woman, Juneteenth was my Independence Day. I’m happy to be surrounded now by people that care about Black lives on July Fourth. That’s what matters, having community—people who care about you on holidays that are days like this: bullshit and oppressive.” —Shelli, a member of the Kriyo Dance Collective at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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“The holiday doesn’t mean shit to me today, because the President is a racist and sexist. People need to wake up to what’s going on in our country right now, there is nothing to celebrate, as of right now, on the Fourth of July. We need to be defunding the police and putting that money somewhere it needs to be, like in education, the homeless population, the LGBT communities and so on. Go out there and vote, Black Lives Matter, we’re out here for Elijah McClain today. Stay woke, people, stay woke.” —Jasmine at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Black Beuys, aka Tracey Ryans, reads an adaption of Frederick Douglas’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”. Taken at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Russell Hall and The Black Smiths Marching Band dance through the crowd at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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Bryan Carter, a member of The Black Smiths, conducts the orchestra of volunteer musicians he organized to honor Elijah McClain during the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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The volunteer orchestra plays “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to honor Elijah McCain during the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.

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A father and son watch the festivities at the Interdependence Day gathering in Washington Square Park. Photographed by Serichai Traipoom for W magazine.