Emotions run high at Beth Marshall Presents’ #blacklivesmatter protest
They spoke of history. They spoke of tragedy.
They sang of hope. They sang of strength.
They called for justice. They called for change.
For three hours Thursday night, Beth Marshall Presents hosted a “Black Lives Matter Virtual COVID Conscious Arts Protest” over social media. Scheduled after the 8 p.m. downtown Orlando curfew dispersed protesters from the streets, the online event gave participants a chance to hear personal stories and share their emotional reactions to the death of George Floyd and the resulting demonstrations.
People around the nation have been staging public protests since Floyd, a black Minnesota man, was killed by a white police officer on May 25. Floyd died after the officer, who has since been charged with murder and manslaughter, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes — an act captured on video.
A current of anger ran through Thursday’s event, which Marshall recorded and planned to make available for later viewing at Facebook.com/BethMarshallPresents or YouTube.
“First they hung us from trees, now we’re dying under their knees,” read Roy Williams Jr., performing a poem by Paris Crayton III, familiar to Orlando audiences from his award-winning Orlando Fringe show “Spare the Rod,” as well as “Hoodies.”
Crayton read from “I Can’t Breathe,” a work written in response to Floyd’s death: “We live in a world with the ‘white is right’ system.”
Dennis Neal, a longtime Orlando actor, had pointed words for white people:
“This is your (expletive) problem. Fix it.”
Like many others who shared stories, he told of a fear always looming in the background of their lives.
“Every day I walk out my door, I’m on guard,” he said in a speech that grew in intensity as he addressed the racism encountered in daily life.
Actor Val Gamble said her fear is for her son’s safety.
“They tell us slavery was a long time ago, get over it,” she said, her voice cracking. “But how can we forget when you keep killing us?”
Many speakers addressed the question of why people are speaking out now.
Some said the coronavirus shutdown had a part to play: People were home to watch the news, and had time to respond.
But many also pointed out the eruption of frustration, anger and sadness was a long time coming.
“There’s a lot of black people in this country who are tired,” said actor Stelson Telfort. “I am one of them.”
“America was built on racism,” said community leader Barry White. He spoke against the looting and vandalism that has accompanied the protests in some areas — “I don’t condone it,” he said, calling the violence “the wrong way.”
Yet he said it wasn’t surprising that anger would boil over after decades of seeing pleas for justice fall on deaf ears.
“Sometimes when you’re hollering at someone and they don’t hear you, you gotta hit ‘em upside the head so they feel you,” he said.
Kerry Alce sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” inspired by a police-brutality incident in the 1970s. Tymisha Harris performed “The Times They Are aChangin’,” by Bob Dylan, another social crusader.
Among Thursday’s fiery anger were embers of hope — a feeling that even small changes could lead to bigger ones.
“Start here,” participants read at the evening’s end. “Give space, reflect, educate. We need to do it together.”
Marshall said “nuanced, uncomfortable conversations” could make a difference. “Real change happens on intimate levels,” she said.
“We gotta do something,” Gamble said at the end of her speech. “There’s no going back now.”
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