WINSTON-SALEM — Over 1000 protesters marched peacefully from Winston-Salem City Hall to Winston Square Park this Saturday, the largest crowd of protesters to march through the city in eight days of protests.
The march was organized by Frankie Gist, a Winston-Salem activist. In addition to the protest led by Gist, the Forsyth County Association of Educators held a rally on Saturday outside of the Forsyth County Hall of Justice.
A chant of “Peace, Unity, Love,” started by organizers rang throughout the park as the crowd settled to hear speeches.
Tandice Jean Baptiste, a seventh grade teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools who attended both events, was one of the speakers in the park. She said school curriculum needs to be changed to allow for difficult, crucial conversations about race to happen in the classroom.
“I’m sorry, does talking about racism make you uncomfortable?” she said. “Racism is uncomfortable.”
Jean Baptiste also said it was important for educators to “stand up” and “stand with” their students by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, because all victims of police brutality were themselves once students.
“George Floyd was a student,” she said. “Ahmaud Arbery was a student. Breonna Taylor was a student.”
Gist said high school students from Winston 4 Peace were instrumental in organizing the march.
Olivia Moore, one of the student organizers with Winston 4 Peace, quoted a speech by former president Barack Obama about the importance of young people participating in movements like the one she was leading.
Moore said even though she didn’t realize it at the time, racism affected her self-confidence and her ability to fill high power positions throughout her life, especially when she was young.
“When I was younger, I used to want to be president. But internalized racism was subconsciously barring me from expressing that. I convinced myself that it was a safety issue, but it was the 44 white male presidents looming over U.S. history,” she said. “I’m not saying that I want to be president, but I’m saying I can be.”
Moore said the support of many young people, like the ones she saw at this protest, will spur the movement to success.
“Society has robbed young people of their dreams, of their potential, of their power,” Moore said, “And today, right now, we are telling the people of Winston-Salem that we are taking our power back.”
Religious leaders from multiple churches, including The Love Church, Galilee Missionary Baptist Church and Christ Cathedral of the Triad, were also involved in helping plan the event.
Gist said religious conviction was one of the main catalysts behind his decision to organize the protest.
“This is what the devil don’t want,” Gist said. “This is what the government don’t want. This is what the people who talk down to us don’t want.”
Pastor Curtis Friday of the Love Church of Winston-Salem, one of the religious leaders who helped organize the protest, said in his speech that it is important to change racist systems in order to have true equality.
“All the murders, that’s rooted in systemic racism. So if you’re white and you’re here and you’ve got power or you’ve got money, use that to help us. Use your mouth to help us," Friday said. "The systems that are created are not created for Black people, so we need to change the systems."
Friday also encouraged Black protesters to become directly involved changing these systems by running for government office in Winston-Salem.
“And for those of you who are Black and educated, I need you to get your education and run for city council member, run for mayor, run for something in this city, so that we can actually make a change,” Friday said.
Forsyth County Commissioner Fleming El-Amin, was one of the speakers at the park.
El-Amin encouraged protesters to place their hand on their belly button, and remember the last words of George Floyd, whose May 25 death at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers sparked protests across the country: “ I can’t breathe.”
“All of us came to life in the same way, through a mama, who fed you, protected you, breath-,” El-Amin said, taking a break to gather himself, “She breathed for us when we couldn’t breathe for ourselves. So when we heard the cry, ‘Mama, I can’t breathe,’ it went around the world.”
As the protest ended and attendees waited to move out of the heat to the tables of free water and food that surrounded the venue, Gist invited Pastor Nathan Scovens of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church to close out the event.
Scovens called up all ministers in the crowd to the stage to join him in saying the Lord’s Prayer. He said as protesters stand in the face of systemic injustice, common lines, like ‘deliver us from evil’ become crucial rallying cries.
“We’re united — look at this — ministers from all over the city, we’re here today. And as we close, there’s one prayer that we all know,” Scovens said. “And we can all say it together, and I believe it’s the greatest benediction because in that prayer, in the middle of it, there’s a line that says ‘deliver us from evil.'’’
El-Amin, who said he was part of the “Civil Rights generation,” said he draws inspiration not just from rallying cries like these, but from the success of other causes his generation fought for.
As younger generations fight to end systemic racism and get justice for victims of police brutality, El-Amin said the participation of each individual in protests is a crucial “footstep” on the road to systemic change.
“Footsteps, in this country, make a difference,” he said. “So don’t stop your footsteps. Make a difference.”
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