Black Lives Matter: where is the movement today?

The Black Lives Matter protests in Garrettsville, Ohio started with one person with a sign. Sasha Gough, an organizer of the protests in Garrettsville, walked up to them, asked if they wanted to continue to have these protests and they continued to have approximately 18 protests, ending in October of this year. Toward the end of the summer, counter-protestors started to meet every Thursday to protest Gough and the people who protested with her. 

Following the death of George Floyd on May, 25, 2020, outraged people throughout the country began protesting the injustice and the issue of police brutality. Garrettsville, a small village in Portage County, with less than 3,000 people or as Gough describes it, “a place where everyone knows everyone” and the conservative voices are the loudest, was one city that protested throughout the summer.

“It was that reaction that really pushed me to stay out there because these are the people I know and live with,” Gough said. “Our town is so small that if these are the people that I’m interacting with every day, I need to continue the message because otherwise, they’re never going to learn.”

From that first Thursday, Gough and her fellow protestors continued to go out and protest every Thursday up until October. The counter-protestors started as 5 guys, but by the end, they had a maximum of 50 to 60 people, while Gough had a maximum of 30 people at one time. 

“A lot of the publicized protests were in cities, so a lot of times you see a lot more Black Lives Matter protesters than counter-protesters but what I noticed once we started protesting and I started looking at like smaller towns too, that basically, the outcome was that the counter-protesters were always outnumbering the Black Lives Matters people,” Gough said.
Kent State University professor Idris Syed. Image from Kent State website.

As the summer continued, Gough continued to hear from people in surrounding cities, asking how they could help and thanking them for continuing to protest. Gough said this surprised her because she was used to the aggression from the opposing side.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement was established recently in 2013, Kent State pan-African professor, Idris Syed, said that this movement and outcry from the Black community is nothing new.

”In Cleveland, we had a young man who was killed by police in 1992, Michael Pickens,” Syed said. “And so for me, this is something that’s been important to me all my life. Even before Black Lives Matter or the hashtag or the movement.”

Syed got involved in the BLM movement after working for the student organization, the May 4th Task Force, in 2016. There, he met Tamir Rice’s mother, Samira Rice at the May 4th commemoration, where she spoke on her experiences losing her son. Syed said that this incident not only impacted him, but impacted the world.

“It was stunning to people all around the world that a police officer could kill a child, a 12-year-old child in less than 2 seconds,” Syed said.

BLM also reached Kent State. In September 2020, the historical Hilltop rock in Kent was defaced with anti-black messages. Many students were outraged and used their frustrations by protesting this incident, including the on-campus organization, Black United Students.

BUS president Tayjua Hines at one of the protests at the beginning of the fall semester. Image provided by Hines.

BUS president Tayjua Hines said these racial attacks made members of this organization fear for their safety.

“I wasn’t really shaken over what was written on the rock because I’ve witnessed that before first-hand, so that wasn’t anything new to me,” Hines said. “But other members, they felt some type of way. Some freshmen… this was the first time they’ve seen something like that, especially on this campus. We’ve had online classes and they haven’t really experienced the same things students have experienced on the day to day in in-person classes or just being on campus.”

Hines said these protests haven’t stopped since the summer, but have increased.

“Black Lives Matter isn’t just exclusive to people in America,” Hines said. “So since the summer, I feel like it’s increased because as we see with SARS and the movements going on in Africa, as well as the ongoing protests that are still happening in America that aren’t publicized because the election and everything else is being overtaken by the media, it’s continued and it’s going strong because Black Lives Matter.”

Since the protests have died down in person, they continue to happen throughout conversations. Whether that be with people in communities, police officers from local stations or local politicians, people are continually talking about what they have experienced and what these protests mean to them.

Collecting data from Count Love, this shows the decrease in the number of protests happening country-wide. Graphic made on Canva by Sara Crawford.

“We’re seeing a lot of changes, some good and some bad. When I say that, I’m looking and speaking in reference to people having critical conversations about the whole issue of Black Lives Matter. And people came out with whether they are for it or against it,” Geraldine Hayes-Nelson, president of the Portage County Chapter of the NAACP said.

Photo provided by Geraldine Hayes Nelson.

These conversations, while talking about the issues that are going on around the country, also discuss the bias, or as Hayes-Nelson said, our tapes. 

These tapes are from our upbringing and what we have learned as we have grown up. “Things that are that are part of our very being and there are some things that will trigger those feelings are those things that are inherent within us,” Hayes-Nelson said. 

Whether these tapes bring up subconscious thoughts or feelings, each of us continue to have the opportunity to hear it, but not listen. 

“What this conversation did is it has brought it to the forefront, to say yes, I do have these feelings and I do have these inherent biases, but I can choose how I react and respond to the space, and to the people outside of that. So basically, it doesn’t control you, but you control it,” Hayes-Nelson said. 

While experiencing the counter-protests, Gough made the decision to create the non-profit, Free Skool, that will help to give free and diverse education on some of these topics — such as racism. Especially when it comes to what she was seeing every Thursday, she felt that education would help them understand more.

This non-profit helps create those conversations. Hayes-Nelson said that BLM’s mission is to not only eradicate ignorance but to help create a community that understands each through this education. 

“There’s a lot of things that need to change, like policy and laws and how we handle things,” Gough said. “But a lot of that’s not going to make any progress until we start to educate ourselves. Otherwise, we’re just going to be yelling at walls.”

Sara Crawford helped write this story, conducted interviews with Geraldine Hayes Nelson and Sasha Gough, transcribed audio and created the graphic.

Ashley Johnson helped write this story, conducted interviews with Idris Syed and Tayjua Hines and transcribed audio.