HBCU Students Organize Thousands for Protest in Jackson

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and First Lady Ebony Lumumba pictured with firefighters in solidarity

By Levell Williams, Online Editor

On Saturday June 6th, Jackson, MS joined the many cities across the nation whose streets have flooded with peaceful protesters. They protest in remembrance of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and unnumbered other black and brown people who died at the hand of police.

A scene from the Saturday June 6, 2020 protest in Jackson (Photo Credit: Jay Johnson)

A Powerful Showing

The march, which is reported to have included more than 4,500 participants from across the state and beyond, was held at 3pm, spanning more than 6 blocks in downtown Jackson. It began at the governors mansion, making its way to the capitol building and other government institutions, before returning to the governors mansion.

The march was organized by HBCU students Calvert White, of Alcorn State University, Taylor Turnage, of Tougaloo College, Maisie Brown, of North Carolina A&T, and Timothy Young, a recent graduate of Jackson State University. The organized protest was a collaboration between the MS NAACP Youth & College Division and Mississippi Black Lives Matter (BLM), as well as other social justice organizations.

This started out as a group chat… It just took off from there,” said Turnage, who serves as the state president of the NAACP Youth & College Division. “We expected 500 at the most…It’s amazing how fast word can spread with just one click of a button.”

Cognizant of the prevailing national issues of COVID-19 and violence associated with protestors, the student organizers required all participants to wear masks and remain peaceful. “There’s two pandemics going on right now. One has been going on for hundreds of years longer than the other,” said Turnage.

The event carried a spectacular ambiance. African drums played, rhythmically ushering protesters along their path. There were several featured speakers, including the student organizers, whose words stirred the hearts of participants in remembrance of the many black lives lost unjustly.

Calvert White (left) pictured with Maisie Brown (center in blue) and 81st Miss JSU Daisia Davis (in yellow), as well as other protesters
Calvert White (left) pictured with Maisie Brown (center in blue) and 81st Miss JSU Daisia Davis (in yellow), as well as other protesters (Photo Credit: Jay Johnson)

Singer Avery Neyland delivered a chilling rendition of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  Young lead an eight minute and forty second long silence, in remembrance of the amount of time Floyd was brutally knelt upon by officer Derek Chauvin.

“Saturday showed that times are changing,” said Turnage. “Most people… have been waiting on something like this.”

Starting at Home

The young organizers included with their protest a list of demands for government officials and a call to action for community members. “You can’t try to change the country…[and] world, until you start at home, in your community,” said Turnage.

Among other things, organizers demanded that elected officials remove all confederate symbols and memorabilia  throughout the state, that the police involved In the death of Ricky Ball of Columbus, MS (who was shot and killed during a traffic stop) be held accountable, and that Petal, MS mayor Hal Marx resign in light of insensitive comments that he made towards Floyd.

Of the community, the young organizers required continued and increased support. They called for community members to hold elected officials accountable, to be active voters, and to support the Mississippi BLM Bail Fund, which supports protesters who are arrested for their activism.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and First Lady Ebony Lumumba pictured with firefighters in solidarity
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and First Lady Ebony Lumumba pictured with firefighters in solidarity (Photo Credit: Jay Johnson)

Notably, the organizers declined personal protective equipment (PPE) support from Governor Tate Reeves on Twitter Friday, the day before the protest. “[I] asked MEMA to get COVID-19 masks together for anybody who needs one,” said the governor on Twitter. “Highway Patrol will get them to protestors. Stay safe and God bless!”

The organizers responded tersely, “Mr. Governor […] This ain’t that. We got it, thanks.” “We [saw it] as Tate Reeves making another effort to police protests,” said Turnage. The comment on Twitter was in no way to disrespect anyone.”

They expressed that they wanted to maintain the peace themselves, rather than through government policing. “It was peaceful because we wanted it to be,” said White. They also said that they already had collected enough PPE through donations by the time the governor had offered.

Nevertheless, the Highway Patrol did show up, distributing water to protestors in the heat. To the satisfaction of the student organizers, they mostly remained behind the fences of the governor’s mansion, according to Turnage.

A Larger Discussion

The BLM Movement is renowned for its place in the social media age, in which protests can be engaged not only in the streets, but also on many devices. “Saturday would not have turned out how it did if it was not for technology,” said Turnage.

Yet, with protests against police brutality and advocacy for institutional reforms becoming rapidly common across all races and classes, some worry that the trend has become a fad. “We do this everyday,” said Turnage. “We’re honestly the last people [who] care about clout.”

When asked about how young people can best support the cause, White said, “The most effective form of protest … is self-education.”

White and Turnage also spoke on the inclusivity of recent protests. They said that non-black and brown people should be cognizant of their roles as allies. “In your efforts to stand beside us, make sure that you don’t drown us out when we have something to say,” said Turnage. “This is a space that, for the first time, was… not created with you in mind,”said White.

“People tend to get equality and equity mixed up,” Turnage said. “Equality is when everyone is given the same thing…[but equity] is where everyone is given what they need based upon what they lack… America is so messed up from hundreds of years [of injustice]… We can’t survive [with just] equality.”

A scene from the Saturday June 6, 2020 Protest2
Protesters pictured at the Saturday June 6, 2020 Protest in Jackson (Photo Credit: Jay Johnson)

Beyond the protest, the organizers emphasized the importance of voting. “We need to start building our young people up, teaching them about the government and politics,” said Turnage. “The problem is not that our vote is useless, [it’s] that people are only voting on the president.”

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won not by popular vote but by rule of the electoral college. Turnage pointed to this instance as a harm to Americans’ trust in the value of their votes.

“We say that we’re a democracy, but in a democracy, the popular vote wins.” She advocated for an end to the electoral college, saying, “… [it] was [originally] used to suppress the votes of poor whites…[Now] it’s expanded to every minority…throughout this country.”

The Work Goes On…

The students who gathered thousands to the state capitol for the most historic protest since the 1960s said that the work has only just begun. “We have not stopped, the work has not stopped… we took a half day off.”

Every like or retweet, word of support, and showing of solidarity lends a helping hand to the cause of the young Mississippians in search of a brighter, more just future for all. However, as White distinguished, “The most effective form of protest … is self-education… No one is going to do it for you.”

The Mississippi Black Lives Matter movement can be found on Twitter (@BLMSip) and Instagram (@BLM_Sip).

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