Protesting in peace

Attendees march peacefully around the Courthouse block in unity.

 On Saturday afternoon, the lawn in front of Candler County Courthouse was filled with over 200 people taking part in a Peaceful Protest coordinated by Shonisha Lanier of Lanier Productions and Elijahh Hall of Rank1Photography. The program was opened with prayer led by Jeffrey Love.

 Shanna Hall served as emcee of the day’s events. “It’s very important for us to come together. We should teach love and awareness.” She then introduced the events coordinators, Lanier and Hall, both of whom are 2017 graduates of Metter High School. 

 Addressing the audience, Lanier said, “To those of you who may have the lingering question as to what this Black Lives Matter rally is about, I encourage each of you to take a quick glimpse around. There is so much diversity assembled in this one area today. The purpose of this Black Lives Matter rally is about one thing: unity. I recently discovered that it is impossible to spell community without using the term unity. 

 “So I’m challenging each of you the next time you see the Black Lives Matter hashtag trending, allow yourself to feel our pain. Check on your African American friends, educate yourself on the topics at hand, stand with us during our time of injustice but please don’t stand against us. This isn’t what community is about.”

 Hall added, “Agape is a noun that means ‘the love for strangers, a universal love.’ We see everything going on all over our country and all these tragic events have led us here today to spread awareness and educate our community on police brutality and racism, but while doing that, the biggest goal for us is to promote and demonstrate peace and love.”

 The floor was then opened for all who wanted to speak. Cornelius Dekle said, “We are the United States of America. The key word is ‘united.’ A house divided cannot stand.” Speaking of the change that needs to be made, he said, “A caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly overnight. We just want change and accountability.”

 MHS 2015 graduate and recent Georgia Southern graduate Jalen Prince also spoke, saying, “We see a lot that the media will not show on television. Here it is all peaceful, and we’re all together, standing here for one another.”

 Prince was followed by Caleb Green, a 2016 MHS graduate and recent Claflin University, dressed to represent his high school, his college and the University of Michigan, where he will be going for his Master’s. “It is good to see all of the races out here,” he said.

 Calvin Boykin was next to speak, saying, “Before we can make a change, we’ve first got to look at God, everybody!”

 Patrick O’Conner, an educator whose family moved to Metter 10 years ago, spoke of how Metter embraced his young family when he was stationed in Iraq. “I am in education because black lives matter to me,” he said. “Most politicians say the right thing when running for office.” O’Conner added that after they get in office, “that’s not the end; it’s the beginning. We say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ but does it matter to you when no one is looking?”

 MHS 2015 graduate and 2019 Mercer University graduate Tamara Andrews praised the turnout, saying, “I never thought I would see something like this in Metter.” She then asked for a show of hands of all who have experienced prejudice or racism in a school or in a business or workplace. A majority of attendees’ hands were raised, to which she said, “That’s way too many hands. That’s a problem.”

 Metter Elementary staff member Walker Sammons pointed out that as a teacher of young children, he sees that racism starts at a young age and is taught to children.

 It was Kendall Collins Jordan who stirred loud and boisterous shouts of “We are Metter” as she reminded the audience of what the Black Lives Matter movement represents and shared God’s commission to love everyone.

 Rev. Hagins of Holy Zion Holiness Church reminded the audience of the value of voting and pointed individuals to the tent where MHS alum Brandon Byrd could assist attendees who were not yet registered to vote.

 Living Waters Pastor Zac Kea also spoke, describing the event as “one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life.” He then stressed that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week as individuals worship in ‘black’ or ‘white’ churches, then reminded everyone that God’s church includes all races. 

 NAACP President William George then spoke, sharing a history of the NAACP which, he said, “was founded not by black folks but by progressive white folks who pulled together with a few black folks” because they were tired of injustices in the country. From 1900-1908, George said, there were almost 800 cases of known lynchings of blacks.

 The mission at the founding of the NAACP, he added, “was to eliminate racial discrimination. That is still the mission today. That mission still has not been met. Love your neighbors; love does not do harm to the ones you love.”

 George then told the audience that it was the Republican President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, not because he wanted to end slavery, but because “he wanted to keep the states together. In other words, we’re stronger together.

 “We are here today because of injustice. We are stronger together. We are proud to come together to do what we can to eliminate injustice. If you want to get rid of injustice, you’ve got to elect people who are about justice – not just talking about it – but you have to vote.”

 Metter City Councilwoman Rashida Taylor told the audience she is “overwhelmed by sadness and grief for the brothers and sisters who are lost because of the color of their skin by those sworn to uphold the law. We know all lives matter,” she said, “but we want to be heard and we are asking that you listen. When you listen, you will take action. “

 Pastor and retired Metter Middle Principal Ralph Carlyle spoke saying, “There’s a lot of things happening, not in Metter, but Metter is in the United States.” Explaining that when his knee hurts, he does not treat a backache, Carlyle said, “When you say Black Lives Matter, that’s what’s hurting and that’s what we should tend to.” He stressed that healthcare, poverty, disparity in wages and unemployment are issues that need to be addressed. “Education is the way to rise above poverty,” he added. “Tell your children they don’t have to live this way, but they’ve got to get educated.”

 Racism, Carlyle said, “is systemic. The system needs to change and not just the people (elected officials). What we are seeing today is that our voices are being heard. I still have faith in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that a change is coming.”

 After a poem, “Modern Day Slave” by Iyannah Love, the audience gathered for a march around the Courthouse block.

 After the event, Lanier said that she was expecting maybe around 50 people and was pleasantly surprised at the attendance. “The turnout was good and the level of participation was very good,” she said. “I can’t describe it.”

 “I felt it was beautiful just to see everybody I went to school with and the children and adults,” Hall said. “I was proud to be a part of it and I hope it inspired others that no matter their age or their race they need to get out there and pay it forward.”

 Now, Lanier and Hall said they want to see the community move forward with the unity that was expressed on Saturday. “Don’t let it stop there. Continue to use your voice and continue to come together as a community,” said Lanier. 

 “There is a lot we need to do and if I am the one that needs to do it, I will,” Hall said.

 Lanier expressed her appreciation to members of the community for their donations, Metter Police Department, Candler County Sheriff’s Office, Victoria Gaitten and Metter-Candler Chamber of Commerce and Metter Advertiser.

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