By Emma Martin-Hilker, contributing writer
Photos by ExpectUS
I am going to state now that I am a white woman. I will never understand the fear of walking on the streets, or the terror that strikes the hearts of black individuals when they see flashing red and blue lights. I will not understand their feelings, nor will I be able to capture their view. Let me say — I’m not trying to. I’m sharing what I saw, and what I believe. I refuse to remain silent — and I’m hoping by sharing my point of view, it will encourage some of you to do the same, especially those of you who are people of color and reading this. The world needs to hear your stories because you matter. Your words and your feelings matter, and no white person (no, not even me) will be able to capture how you feel about everything happening in the world.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve all seen flashes of protests fill the screens of our lives. It’s hard to try to figure out the weather without a breaking news report interrupting or scroll through social media without seeing post after post exclaiming opinions about the protests breaking out all across the world. It is one thing to see the protests through the screen, it is another being involved. I got the opportunity to go to three different protests this past week and going may have been the most eye-opening experience for me.
Walking with people of color and hearing their stories of injustice broke my heart. They raised their voices and told their stories. They fought without ever holding a weapon or lighting buildings on fire. We were peaceful, and I can say I am thankful, for there have been many across American that have turned violent. In some situations, amid violence, the true reason for these protests have been lost. George Floyd was murdered, and he was not the first person of color whose life ended far too soon. We are fighting for the statement to finally be true — black lives truly do matter.
Thursday, June 4th at 6pm in Brentwood St. Louis, MO
Being the first protest, I encountered, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I joined the large group of mixed races, I was faced with a boarded-up Target. It was as if they expected us to set it ablaze. But that was not the intent. We were there for George Floyd. As our chants filled the air, you could feel the tension rising. Each shout was for an individual whose voice was taken from them, for a person of color who should still be here today. We marched with our heads high, and our signs visible for all to see. “No justice, no peace”, “George Floyd”, “Black lives matter”, “I can’t breathe”, etc. Soon a screeching sound was heard. A man whipped his truck through the crowd and proceeded to fire off two rounds. The sound of gunshots didn’t scare me, or any of us for that matter. It was a reminder of why we were there because those gunshots could have been ones to end another life. The truck retreated, and the march continued.
When we reached the worn-down Walmart, leaders took turns speaking. You could hear the pain and hurt in their voices. While some spoke, I swear you could hear tremors — many probably wondering: am I next? Are my kids going to come home? When will I feel safe? These emotional speeches were followed by silence. But it wasn’t just us being silent.
It was like the whole world stopped for a second. Cars didn’t honk, people didn’t speak, for eight minutes and forty-eight seconds, the world was still. As the gravel dug into our knees, and we kneeled in respect for George Floyd, it was surreal. It seemed like an eternity, but I’m sure it doesn’t compare to how George Floyd felt when his neck was pressed to the ground, and his life was taken from him. After the time of remembrance was over, we marched back to Target. We were loud, bold, and willing to use our voice even more. As the sun went down, and people began to disperse, one final act was done to remember Floyd that night. The crowd took their phone lights and lit up the night sky. We were there to make a change, not by looting, and rioting, but by being a light for those who feel like they aren’t seen or known. For all those people of color who feel alone. You are wanted, loved, and we are fighting to make sure you have a brighter tomorrow.
Friday, June 5th at 7pm in St. Peters, MO
I was welcomed this night by a much younger group. It seemed so surreal to see so many people of my age out in such a situation. We are known as the troublesome generation, as people who care about ourselves. But this crowd spoke the exact opposite. We are a generation that cares about those around us. We are a generation of change. We are a generation willing to fight for those we love. We are a generation that is going to help shake this world and help make it a better place for the people of color.
That night was also one that gave me hope for the police force. I was granted with a little skepticism on the statement that “all cops are bad.” As we marched on that night, police joined that caravan. There were about a dozen or so, and they weren’t there to silence our chants or combat our hurt. They were there to march. As to whether they were genuine or not in joining the crowd — we may never know. But when we had another moment of silence, they joined in the quiet. However, only one joined as we kneeled in Floyd’s honor. Maybe it also was in support of Floyd, or maybe it was to continue the facade. But either way, he took a knee and joined us on the rough asphalt. He was down on his knee, and it wasn’t on someone’s neck. It’s sad that in today’s world this is considered progress.
Saturday, June 6th at 4:30pm in St. Charles, MO
Just as I did two days prior, this day I marched with ExpectUS, a Saint Louis group to fight injustice, and fight for people of color. This protest was specifically for Breonna Taylor. If you haven’t heard the tragedy that occurred with Breonna, I would highly suggest you go and read about it. To summarize, Breonna was shot eight times after multiple policemen entered her home. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot at a police officer, whom he believed was an intruder after the policemen entered under a “no-knock” search warrant.
Friday, June 5, was her 27th birthday. This was a day that she should have celebrated with family and friends, yet instead of a celebration, those close to her mourned her death yet another day. Taylor’s aunt says it best when she exclaimed “this should have never happened.” Taylor should not have been killed in the comfort of her own home. And that’s why the crowd gathered on that beautiful day. It was to remember this beautiful soul who should have been here still today. As we marched in her honor that day, we were faced with more policemen. This time was different.
Helmets were in place, bats were in hand, gear was on. They believed we were there to fight. They were joined by SWAT members. They looked as if they were about to go into war. It was shocking to see. As they filed off the bus and onto the street where we stood, the atmosphere changed. But instead of fear taking over, we shouted louder, we held our signs higher. We were not shaken, instead, we were encouraged that they knew we were fighting; not with violence, or with riots. No, we were fighting with unity. We stood as a solid crowd, every race standing together and shouting our chants so they were heard for miles upon miles. And maybe that’s how we will finally experience change, maybe this is finally the start of black lives believing that they truly do matter.
There is so much that could be said about protests, but no words could compare to the experience of being there amongst the crowd. This is why I encourage you, yes, you, to go out and peacefully fight injustice. I went out to protest because I believe in the Black lives matter movement. I went out to protest because while I will never understand, I stand. I went out to protest because it is the right thing to do. What ties all of these protests together are the people, we are all there to love. No matter your race, you are loved and we will never stop fighting till we are all equal. Together we stand, divided we fall. As time goes on, I challenge McKendree to question their claim on diversity. There have been many boasts as to how diverse we are as a campus. However, let’s not compare ourselves to other schools, Instead, let us compare ourselves to weeks ago. There is always something we can do to do better — I challenge all of us to find that thing and grow in it.
I challenge McKendree University directly. We need more black professors, who can teach us more at this time than someone who is living through it. If we claim to be diverse, it can’t simply be in the student. As a whole, we must be diverse. I challenge us, students, to speak up. We have been silent for too long about injustices that have occurred, and we need to fight for black lives on our campus, and all across the world. I am a white female speaking about these protests, however, I believe we can learn far more from those of color. We should be hearing from them about the challenges they are facing, and the worldview they have during protests. Mckendree is a family, and if some of our family is hurting, we must stand with our family and fight with them. Together we stand, divided we fall.
Everything is going to be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. #BLM