On Sunday evening, I marched with #BlackLivesMatter activists through downtown Columbia.
I am not going to give a play-by-play of the march because other people have already done a good job of that. I would highly suggest reading this report by the Midlands Anchor or Sean Rayford’s brief write up and photographs. I saw these two guys running all over town documenting the march and I applaud their journalistic efforts. I also want to take a moment to commend the MANY (seriously, there were so many of them) law enforcement officers who ushered this nonviolent protest throughout our city streets.
My favorite moment of the march was watching a young black woman lead the crowd in chanting lyrics to a Nas song — “I know I can (I know I can), Be what I wanna be (Be what I wanna be), If we work hard at it (If we work hard at it), We will be free (We will be free).” It was exhilarating to see her shine in a moment of pride and confidence and protest. The entire evening was electric with black activists flexing their power in a raw and emotional way. This march was meant to disrupt our daily lives because the reality of racial inequality needs to be acknowledged. Standing in the intersection of Assembly and Gervais Street, I mulled over the truth that this is a community of people who, within my parents’ generation, were treated with such disregard that we couldn’t even enter a building together.
I came home from the march and scoured social media reports only to find people saying the most AWFUL things regarding the march and protesters. There were comments insisting that protesters should get jobs or go home to take care of their many children. People claiming false reports of violence from the protestors. But what truly horrified me were the dozen different variations of the declaration that people would just run these protesters over if they saw them in the streets. And THIS is exactly why Black Lives Matter. Because despite the fact that we can all walk into buildings together, for too many people the life of a black person does not hold the same value as that of a white person.
I have been wrecked with emotions since Monday night. I don’t say this to earn your sympathy, but to acknowledge that this a complicated issue. I was nervous at the march, but never because I felt threatened by a person of color. I have re-written this piece a million times because I desperately want to find the right mix of words to enlighten, but not offend. However, my comfort level should not be what keeps me from speaking out against real injustice, supporting my friends of color, and pushing through difficult conversations to gain a better understanding of my fellow (wo)man.
Photos provided by the author