Everyone has moments in their lives that they will remember forever. These moments define someone and become parts of who they are and what they stand for. Most of those kinds of moments from my life involve either the outdoors or theater, and both of those things are huge parts of who I am. As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed that it takes something significant to make a “forever” memory, because my list of impactful experiences continues to grow. This past Friday, June 5th, was one of those days that I will never forget.
I had spent the better part of the week leading up to this day taking part in protests in my city, Richmond, VA. Seeing videos of cops in my neighborhood spitting on detainees, hearing sirens from my house 24/7, and having frustrating conversations with friends and family online and in person who don’t support Black Lives Matter had left me wildly infuriated and inspired to join the movement in a more active way than just donating and sharing posts online. I caught wind of a march happening on Friday night, and before I knew it, I found myself standing in the middle of Monroe Park, the heart of VCU and the city, among hundreds of fellow Richmonders, all decked out with signs, masks, and black outfits. I was acutely aware of how many unfamiliar faces I was surrounded by; I didn’t know anyone besides my three friends. But what struck me was that everyone there had some connection to Richmond.
These few hundred strangers were of different races, experiences, struggles, and dreams had gathered together to fight for the same thing. Even before the march began, I was just standing there - moved by how determined everyone was. We were there to fight, it didn’t matter if we were friends or strangers, we were going to be heard, damnit.
The plan was simple; march from Monroe Park to the Richmond City Jail. When we started marching, the seemingly endless stream of marchers engulfed by the tight city blocks, and I began to grow anxious; what if we turned the corner and the police had set a trap for us? But then I looked up. We were marching under an apartment building, and from almost every balcony stood residents waving pride flags and holding up BLM signs cheering us on. Then I looked around me. My fellow marchers were chanting with uncanny urgency and determination, one that I had never felt before. A few people were decked out in body armor ready to throw teargas back at a moment’s notice. Every block or so, people were stationed on front porches and curbsides handing out free food, water, and hand sanitizer. I realized something in that moment. We were in this together. If we had to fight, we would. If we lost our voices, so be it. We were going to be heard.
Then we arrived at the jail, and my reality shifted. The sky was a deep purple and the first stars of the night were poking out between the light cloud cover. We rounded a corner and there it was. A harsh building with only a few, tiny windows standing starkly out of place against the city skyline. As we drew closer, we grew louder. We were going to be heard. Not just by the police, but also by the inmates. As we came to a stop in the middle of the road, I looked up again, but this time the people waving were not out on a balcony chanting and cheering us on. Instead they were tiny figures you had to squint to see waving through tiny prison windows, but waving nonetheless. One by one, everyone in the crowd raised a proud fist at the jail. We were there to let the people inside know that we stand with them. Because Black Lives Matter means All black lives matter, including incarcerated lives. While waving at a man high above me, I had a moment that will stay with me forever. Even though I didn’t know anyone in the jail I was ready to fight for every single one of them. I was standing in a sea of strangers ready to fight for the lives of other strangers. That is what a movement is. It’s when hundreds and thousands of people come together to fight for something bigger than themselves.
Protesting is so important. This movement is so important. June 5th will stay with me because it’s when I first felt what it really meant to be a part of something bigger than me. The best part, though, is that our voices are being heard in Richmond. Monuments are coming down, there is a tentative (hopefully soon to be concrete) plan to defund the police, and there is a push for a civilian review board to hold officers accountable. Change is slow. It does not happen overnight, we all know that. But change is coming. The city of Richmond will not stop until we see change, and I know other cities around the country will not stop either. So get out there, use your voice (even if its muffled by a mask), you never know who might be listening.
To the man waving back at me from a Richmond City Jail window, thank you for inspiring me and for helping me see the world through a different lens. I will always remember you, and I will always stand with you.