Last Saturday, June 13, Aledo Central Park held around 150 people who gathered for a peaceful protest march and rally in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests across the country in reaction to the viral video showing the murder of 46 year old George Floyd in Minneapolis, Mn. on May 25 depicting Derek Chauvin, a police officer, kneeling on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down.
Mercer County High School students, Iliawna Hook and Zoe Nevels organized the event. Attendees first marched from Central Park to the Mercer County High School on the sidewalk, went around the circle drive and came back to Central to hear speakers and have an open forum for discussion.
Hook, 16, spoke about the racism she has experienced in her community, including comments others may think are okay, “A few things I’ve heard… ‘Wow, are you and that other black girl related?’; ‘So what are you mixed with?’; ‘You must love fried chicken and koolaid’; ‘You must be great at sports’; While these comments may seem okay, they are very offensive to me and other people in the black community. These comments alone show me that racism is very alive and well today.”
“Racism isn’t something you’re born with you’re taught to do it. We need to teach our kids to not be racist,” Hook said times she brings up the issue - others have been dismissive, “No, I’m not going to deal with it anymore.”
When she was 10 years old her mother sat her down for, “The Talk… my mom sat me down at the kitchen table and she told me, ‘If I ever get pulled over with you ni the car, they’re not going to see you the same as me… Comply so we can make it home safe.’
“I shouldn’t have to be taught a different way to deal with police just so I can come home with my life in tact.”
Hook said white privilege is not feeling a need to have this talk, “We’re all going to struggle - but a whole bunch of you out here are not going to struggle because (the color of your skin) and that’s just the truth.”
“Everyone’s life here matters, but black people are in danger, that’s why we say, ‘our lives matter.’” Hook said it’s not uncommon for her to be called N**** (the ‘N’ word), at school or sporting events. The audience responded with moans of disapproval. Hook said she knows it’s uncomfortable, but it had to be said.
“I’m tired of fearing for my life when I go to the cities or sometimes in this town.
Nevels, lived just 30 minutes from where killed in Ferguson, Mo., where Michael Brown was killed Aug. 9, 2014. She said that was her wake up call.
“I believe that if you want to change the world, you should start at home.”
“So many people say, ‘why does aledo need this… that couldn’t happen here’. I can tell you racism exists here. I have seen it. I may not have experienced it, but just because something doesn’t happen me doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
That’s why I want this community to be better. I want the kids in the community to grow up in a community without racism,” she said.
Another speaker, 19 year old Joe Scott, a person of color, said he’s a recent transplant to Aledo from the southside of Chicago, “At first, it was difficult. A lot of people were not talking to me. I spoke up - you can’t make friends just being silent. It was great. I made a lot of friends here, I’m out here to support. I’m apart of the black lives movement… I’m proud to be here.”
He saw a lot of violence in Chicago, “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, it was a struggle for my family. I did anything I could to keep my family, friends out of trouble… my older brother, I will always try to sit them down and talk to them.”
Insults were shouted from a couple vehicles moving past Central Park, where the crowd was gathered. A handful of vehicles passed by with various flags displayed, including the American, Confederate, and ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flags. Attendants heard the word N***** from a passerby but most couldn’t make out what was said. One derogatory sign was also spotted.
Another group, who held flags and signs that said, “All Lives Matter, No Racism Here”, and “Stop The Division”, were peacefully protesting across the street west of Central Park. While they appeared to be ‘counter-protesting’, they were not of the opposite opinion - they said they were loosely organized and did not condone folks using derogatory language.
Before the event, Tyler Ryckeghem, posted a call to action on Facebook, “...To stand up for all lives, show support to our President and defend our police force! All lives matter. Cops matter…”
He said their purpose was to find middle ground, “I understand the people putting this on, it takes a lot of courage to say something, I applaud that. But I’m born and raised in this county and I don't need someone to tell me there’s a problem when there isn’t.”
“I don’t believe there’s a race issue in mercer County. Because I can look at (both races) in the same exact situation - comes out the same. It’s based off your character.” He said he would gladly sit down and have a conversation with the Black Lives Matter protestors.
“I don't think we’ll find that middle ground today, but it’s definitely worth voicing (our) opinion. That’s ultimately what this was about - everyone has their freedom of speech.”
Dale “Rusty” Speck said it’s not an ‘us vs. them’ problem, “Unfortunately we have a government, a media - they sow the seeds of division and fear, it’s propaganda, it’s not the news anymore.”
“We’re not really ‘counter’... we need to be sitting down and discussing things. I have found so many times, once you get past all the arguing and bickering about identity politics, everybody wants the same thing. We want to be left alone, have peace, have our rights, we want freedom… we both want the same things,” he said.
Afterwards, protestors from the Black Lives Matter rally were approached by protestors from across the street. The conversation centered around finding middle ground - and working towards understanding. Both groups agreed to say, "Black Lives Matter," and "All Lives Matter," they also agreed to keep open communication.
Hook and Nevels worked closely with law enforcement in preparation for the event - to ensure everyone’s safety.
“It went very well. There was some counter-protestors. The actual rally itself, everyone seemed to be respectful. They took advantage of their first amendment right to peaceably assemble, and it went very well overall,” said Mercer County Sheriff Dusty Terrill. He said he had some concern, “We see on the news of rioting, looting… The thought of that coming to town is frightening.”
He said it was a privilege to work with students Hook and Nevels, “Their desire was like mine, that it remain peaceful. They were easy to work with, They were open minded with suggestions we had. They had the correct intention of having their voices be heard in the proper way and they demonstrated that very well,” he said.
Mercer County Sheriff’s deputies and Aledo Police had a presence - and provided protection for protestors blocking vehicles as they crossed the street, and remained on hand just in case.
Hook said overall the event went well, “Everything was peaceful.”
For Nevels, “This exceeded my expectations... I’m amazed with how today went.”