Photo: Kennadi McCoy leads a march through downtown Winston-Salem. (photo by Jordan Green)
Protesters in Winston-Salem marched for the eighth straight day on Saturday to lift up the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality and to decry systemic racism.
Naudia Holley, who brought her 5-year-old daughter, said she was heartened to see the mix of people coming together.
“I’m happy to see there’s a rainbow of black, Asian and LGBTQ,” said Holley, who has marched nearly every night since the protests began in Winston-Salem on Sunday. “This is something we all go through, but for some reason our people don’t get justice. I believe they have no choice but to listen now. There’s a rainbow plethora speaking with one voice. That’s what I love about my city of Winston-Salem. That should tell them we are not okay.”
A vigil to remember George Floyd is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
As the march got underway at noon, four electronic billboards on University Parkway began broadcasting the message: “We are a community. Support the work. #BlackLivesMatter.” The messages are sponsored by Equity Forsyth, a group that brought Nikole Hannah-Jones, the New York Times journalist responsible for the 1619 Project, to Winston-Salem last October.
Saturday’s protest, which began near the Ward Federal Building, drew upwards of 1,000 people, including elected officials and members of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.
“Whoever said they wanted their child to grow up in a racist society?” asked Tandice Jeanbaptiste, a teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, during a speakout at Winston Square Park. “But when it’s time to stand up, no one wants to stand up. We are the educators. They can train us on Canvas? They can train us on computer technology? They can educate us on anything. But they will not train us on how to teach a bunch of students how to go against racism. Why won’t they teach us about talking about racism? Oh, I’m sorry. Does talking about racism make you uncomfortable? Well, you know what, racism is uncomfortable.
“You have no right to tell us we cannot talk about race in our classroom,” Jeanbaptiste continued. “We are raising kids to become doctors. We are raising kids to become teachers. Those doctors and teachers need to be the ones who are teaching antiracism. It’s our job to talk to our superintendent, to enforce curriculum that goes against racism. It is up to us to go to our principals and talk to them about book clubs so we can read to talk to our students, because George Floyd was a student. Ahmaud Arbery was a student. Breonna Taylor was a student. So, what are we gonna do? All I say is don’t stop. Don’t stop now. There’s so much out there to educate you about antiracism…. All I say to my educators is: Don’t walk back into that classroom the same way.”
Forsyth County Commissioner Fleming El-Amin asked people gathered at Winston Square Park to place their rights hands over their navels.
“All of us came into life the same way, through a mama, who fed you protected you, breathed….” He paused to collect himself as he thought about George Floyd’s words as a Minneapolis police officer choked the life out of him.
“She breathed for us when we couldn’t breathe for ourselves,” El-Amin continued. “So, when you heard the cry, ‘Mama, I can’t breathe,’ it went around the world.”
Protesters repeatedly lifted up the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but also other black people killed or beaten at the hands of the police or by white racists, known and unknown, from the amphitheater at Winston Square Park and in the streets.
Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago who was kidnapped, mutilated and fatally shot for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Money, Miss. in 1955.
Rodney King, who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, their acquittals sparking a citywide rebellion in 1992.
Malik Thomas, a 9-year-old boy who burned to in Arizona in 2006, allegedly after being doused with gasoline by white classmates.
Willie McCoy, a rapper shot 55 times and killed by Vallejo, Calif. police in 2019.
“And of my personal favorites — a friend of my very own family, who was shot by plainclothes cops on his very own porch in Columbus, Ohio in 2017,” Kennadi McCoy, a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, told the assembly at Winston Park. “His name was Henry Green.”
The crowd repeated after McCoy, thundering Henry Green’s name out of the amphitheater.
“These are the names of the people who you are not supposed to know,” McCoy said. “These are the names of the people they did not want you to see, the stories they did not want you to hear. Why? Because it is dangerous what we do when we get together. There is power in numbers.
“I want to remind you all that this is not a celebration,” McCoy continued. “Though we may be together and we may clap and it may be nice to see your friends and your family here with you, this is not a celebration. This is one big funeral. We are crying. We are begging for our lives. And I’m tired of begging to be able to walk down my own street. I’m tired of being followed around in the store because they think maybe you can’t afford it. I’m exhausted. And if you’re not tired of people being shot with their hands up — ‘Do not shoot’ — if that doesn’t make you angry then I don’t know what will.”
As march commenced, organizer Frankie Gist said he was excited about the unity he’s seen.
Speaking about the unique cooperation between protesters and police in Winston-Salem — in stark contrast to Charlotte and other cities across the country where police violently attacked protesters — Gist said the first priority for him is stopping violence in the community.
“Not many people can see the bigger vision,” he said in an interview. “It’s beyond George Floyd. You know, we have crime happen every day in our city. But in order for us to be able to decrease that crime, all these people that’s here today need to come together. We’ve got money in our pocket, and let’s buy back the block and give these men and women jobs to get off the streets, so we could decrease the violence in our city and we could focus on police brutality as one whole. But if we got violence happening — black-on-black crime — violence happening every day in our community and then police brutality, that’s a whole bunch of things that we have to fight for. But if we said, ‘Hey, let’s make a way for these young men and women to stop killing each other,’ and then when we do that and they get to a better place in their life, we can fight against police brutality and it will have an effect.”
Corey McCann, a Mechanics & Farmers Bank employee who organizes with Rally Up Winston-Salem, admonished against using the phrase “black-on-black crime” during his remarks at Winston Square Park, without mentioning Gist by name, saying that it helps support a racist justification by police of treating black people as less than human.
The marchers knelt outside the Forsyth County Law Enforcement Detention Center for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck. Then, at Gist’s direction, they pointed towards the slats so that people held in the jail could see them, and yelled, “We love you!”
Later, they knelt again at Fourth and Cherry streets, chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as diners looked on from the sidewalk.
As the larger rally was concluding, a smaller group of protesters started marching again at 1:30 p.m. Marching briskly, they brought out chants that were more pointed than previous ones heard earlier in the day. They chanted, “White silence is white violence,” and, “We have a duty to fight for freedom. We believe that we will win.” Throughout the march, four unmarked police cars followed the protesters.
The march passed the Link Apartments near BB&T Ballpark and then turned into the West End neighborhood near Baptist Hospital. Employees outside some establishments, including Foothills Brewing and the Quiet Pint, applauded in support, and one woman in the West End held aloft a handmade poster reading, “Black lives matter.” The marchers endured sweltering heat, and one woman was treated for heat exhaustion by the Winston-Salem Fire Department.
Miranda Martin, who helped lead the impromptu second march, congratulated her fellow protesters.
“You fought through 85 degrees,” she said. “You have to show you will fight through adversity. No matter how many times you get knocked down, get back up. We have to show them how fucked up that is. We have to continue to make the cops uncomfortable, the mayors uncomfortable.”