More than 1,300 citizens came out to support the Black Lives Matter movement Sunday afternoon in Marietta’s Muskingum Park. A series of speakers led programming, beginning with eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence in honor of George Floyd, the Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis Police on May 25. The aftermath of his death has prompted protests in all 50 states, including rural areas across the country. Marietta was no different.
The event, organized by two Marietta high school graduates, grew quickly in popularity in a matter of days.
“Hayla [Zyla-Dennis] and I started the Facebook group and event thinking we would maybe get 30 people interested,” said co-organizer Kensley Lowther. “It immediately took off with an immense amount of support, so we decided we needed to do more.”
Zyla-Dennis handled getting the appropriate permit and carried out necessary duties to ensure safety.
“So many people donated, volunteered, and showed support which is why it was as big of a success as it was,” said Lowther. “Our community really stepped up to support the BIPOC members of our community.”
Lowther said she and Zyla-Dennis worked together to put on the event because they wanted to use their places of privilege and their platforms to elevate the underrepresented voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in the area.
If even one heart was changed, it was absolutely worth it.Kensley Lowther
“We truly believe to effect true and lasting change in America that everyone, especially small, predominantly white communities need to stand up for what is right and call out injustice,” she said.
Lowther said she feels the protest accomplished what she had hoped: Those who attended heard perspectives they are not typically exposed to and given action items to help bring about change.
“We feel that if even one heart was changed it was absolutely worth it,” she said. “We, along with other members of the community, learned so much from the speakers and think that the event has sparked empathy and unity. People have stepped up and started conversations of how we can call out our own privilege, what actions we can take moving forward to effect lasting change, and above all how we can better support the BIPOC community.”
Fourteen speakers, all people of color, ranged from Marietta high school students, college faculty, local business owners, and members of the U.S. military. Representatives from the Marietta Police Department, the Marietta Mayor’s office, City Council, the student body, and local churches and nonprofits attended. A livestream of the speakers can be found on Clutch MOV’s Facebook page.
Tyler Preston, owner of Mr. Golden Scissors barbershop in Marietta, spoke at the event because he wanted to set an example for those in the community.
“As someone who has lived here my whole life and my family knows a lot of people in the community, I wanted to show I cared,” he said. “The main message I wanted people to take away is that it is possible to protest peacefully. There is a way to get your emotions and feelings across in a way that isn’t condemning but eye-opening at the same time.”
Several protesters spoke about their decision to attend the event.
“This is something I’ve been passionate about since long before George Floyd,” said Robin Ryan of Parkersburg. “It was ready to come to a head and I just want to support the Black Lives Matter movement and just show everyone that not all white people with privilege are racist. Just to get behind the movement. It shouldn’t even have to be a movement. Equal justice, that is why we are here.”
It’s just unacceptable at this point of time in our country that we still have to fight for basic human rights.Sydney Johnson
Her son, Matthew Ryan, agreed. “I think this is as simple knowing there is no true freedom in a country where oppression reigns,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to create awareness for, to show that there is social injustice in our country is something that we need policy and change applied in our country for.”
Their friend, Sydney Johnson of Vienna, has faced racial injustice and prejudice herself as a person of color.
“It’s just something that I feel passionate about,” said Johnson. “I mean, I face it myself. It’s gotta change. It’s just unacceptable at this point of time in our country that we still have to fight for basic human rights. There’s no equality until everyone is considered equal in this country.”
Britt and Chance Coleman of Marietta are an interracial couple who attended the protest together.
“We just want to stand for something and make sure our voices are heard,” said Britt Coleman. “We’re married, so, we want to be able 30, 40 years from now to tell our children, our grandchildren that we stood for something, and we made sure we were a part of something and made our voices heard.”
Beth Dennis of Marietta brought her daughter, Sophia Pope, to the event, along with Sophia’s friend, Anastasia Nicholas, also of Marietta.
“My daughter is biracial, and her life matters,” said Dennis about why she chose to attend the protest. “I came to support,” said Pope.
“She’s my best friend and she deserves not to live in fear,” said Nicholas of Pope.
The protest also gave locals various ways to help, whether it was working at the medic station, registering people to vote, or raising money for Black Lives Matter.
Marietta resident Tim Turner wanted to help, so he offered to purchase food and water to be distributed to protesters. His company matched his initial budget, and DaVinci’s Restaurant answered his call on social media for sale of provisions.
“About a week before, I told my wife we wanted to do something but they had most things taken care of in terms of volunteers,” said Turner. “We thought it was going to be warmer than it was so we wanted to provide food and water and make it known so people didn’t have to worry about bringing stuff.”
Everyone wants something to do but sometimes we need a catalyst once something gets rolling.Tim Turner
DaVinci’s provided disposable utensils, ice chests for water, two different types of wraps, stromboli, chips and pasta salad. After securing this initial order, enough donations came in for Turner to be able to double it.
“We wound up being able to put together 260 full meals and 400 snacks and tons of water,” he said.
At the protest, food and water were handed out free of charge. However, several protesters offered donations, totaling $787, which Turner was able to immediately donate to Black Lives Matter through the Movement Black Lives’ fund. Leftovers were given to Gospel Mission in Harmar, including four or five cases of water and non-perishables. His friends, Chris Fennell and Ben Smith, assisted him, along with his son Kaleb, 20.
“My wife Bre was a tremendous help, setting stuff up and watching our kids,” said Turner.
Turner was surprised to see the turnout at the protest, but not surprised that so many stepped up to help out.
Online discussions following the event suggested action items such as starting a local diversity and inclusion organization, teaming up with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Marietta College, reaching out to local police officials about prioritizing the hiring of officers of color, and more.
“Marietta is a town of momentum,” he said. “Everyone wants something to do but sometimes we need a catalyst once something gets rolling. That’s exactly what happened. It’s one of the things I love about this place.”