Tifton’s Black Lives Matter demonstration this summer was deemed so successful that organizers are saying that the community needs more events.
“I felt in my heart that Tifton needed this peaceful protest with the times right now,” said organizer Selena Herrera. “It was a beautiful experience and Tifton needs it again.”
The march occurred June 19, also known as Juneteenth, and started at Tift County Courthouse. It was inspired by news spiraling about police brutality towards minority groups. Knowing that Tifton is a small town and has a reputation as a conservative area, the organizers took care to keep it peaceful.
The process began with a small group planning and strategizing the goals and objectives for the event. The group involved organizers Nyshanti Ross, a biology major at ABAC; Herrera, who lives in Tifton; Kevin Joachin, ABAC graduate and community organizer at the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GHLAR); and organizing advisor Dr. Jess Usher, professor at ABAC.
Ross and Herrera said planning this event was important because they are active in the community and persons of color.
Ross said, “From the time everything in the world started, I felt like I needed to do something and do my part. When someone mentioned having a protest, I took and ran with it.” She reached out to seasoned activists Usher and Joachin, who she knew were likeminded and dependable.
Herrera’s experience has been heartwarming and humbling. “I was very emotional! Very thankful and content with the turnout,” she said, also thanking God for Dr. Usher with his knowledge of previous protests. Herrera approached Ross with the idea, then reached out to Joachin.
Joachin said his connections after graduating from ABAC helped him to offer guidance to the organizers about what to do at the protest. “I was asked to help organize the protest for BLM, but it was really important to consider leadership of black people from Tifton and rural South,” he said.
Joachin said his experience as a Latinx Southerner and GLAHR organizer taught him the importance of promoting Black leadership and standing in solidarity. “It’s important to bridge the two issues of police brutality and ICE that is happening towards our communities cannot be explained without racial profiling,” Joachin said.
Usher said his role was giving guidance for everyone involved. “It is very important that this event should be planned by leaders of color and my role was mainly to use my organizing experience [in previous protests] to ensure the safety of all involved while working behind the scenes,” Usher said.
The process went smoothly. Organizers met with local leaders, including Tifton Police Chief Steve Hyman, to secure permits from both city and county governments. The goal, Usher said, was to make sure systems were in place to ensure the protestors could express themselves safely and peacefully.
On the day of the march, members of the Tifton community came out to support the cause. The turnout of the Tifton community was important for the organizers to see. Because America is under precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic, flyers for the event required attenders to wear their masks. Flyers also said profane signs were allowed. Before the event officially began, news outlets came to the event to interview the organizers and attendees.
The event consisted of a rally, march, and rally again. People from Valdosta spoke about their experiences to hype up the crowd during the first portion of the rally.
When the marching portion came, everyone lined up on the roadway to start marching with their signs. People began to sing songs and shout out reformations with the objective of marching eight minutes and forty-six seconds to represent the time of George Floyd’s final moments of his life.
When everyone circulated back to the courthouse, people from Tifton were given the opportunity to speak. The event ended with the crowd singing the Negro-National Anthem, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.
“When I first found out about the protest, I was super excited that something like this was happening in the small conservative town that I grew up in,” said Taylor Horton after attending the event. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I knew there are people who are opposed to the protest, and I was worried of how that might play out.”
Horton said all she saw at the gathering was love and truth. “Heartwarming to see everyone in solidarity demanding justice,” she said.
“I was completely blown away by the amount of love and support that day,” said Rosh. “All the words of encouragement, donations, and help were much needed and appreciated.”
“I loved how everyone took it to the light of what we believe in and overall wanting equality for what we believe in, and being applauded for our bravery applauding our bravery,” said Herrera. “It let a lot of people know that they are not alone, and we stand in solidarity with them no matter what your skin color, religion, or preference!”
Joachin said he was impressed with the turnout although he couldn’t attend himself. “I was proud to be part of an effort lead by women of color in the town that I grew up in, especially because none of the leaders engaged in any form of protest before and their leadership flowed naturally. It just made me more courageous for being included in the process.”
Dr. Usher said the ABAC can bring light to the movement. “Despite all the propaganda from disingenuous media like Fox News and Russian bot farms on Facebook, BLM is not anti-police,” Usher said. “Instead is against bad individual police and bad policing techniques targeting communities of color.”
Usher said he was proud of event leaders for showing how to deliver an important message peacefully and intelligently. He said the crowd included people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds from multiple generations.
He did point out that there were counter-protesters, but not many. “There were a number of white Republicans in attended which bolstered hope for the return of a better and more united America. Sadly, a number of local people did little to dispel stereotypes of white rural southerners as ignorant and racist. At least a dozen trucks festooned with Trump regalia rode by to yell racial epithets and other incoherent trash.”
Usher also cited a speaker at ABAC’s campus in February 2020. “As Miss Rutha Harris said, ‘Freedom is a constant struggle.’”