The Black Lives Matter BloNo group held a public meeting Sunday that shared compassion and addressed some of the response to its list of policy demands.
Leadership team members Ky Ayaji and Olivia Butts said while they’ve received good response and support from some, others have expressed concern.
“The first was on the word ‘demand,’ as some people have said, ‘Ask nicely, don’t ‘demand,’ and the second was on the word ‘defund,’” said Ajayi.
“That's something we've kind of doubled down on. We are no longer asking nicely for these things. We are demanding them,” Butts said. “After years and years of being disadvantaged by systemic racism, it's time to demand some change.”
Ayaji said while some may not understand their logic, it's made room for deeper conversation.
“All that tells me is that there’s interest and there’s confusion, but there’s a desire for dialogue. So from that perspective, things are going well,” Ajayi said.
At the Miller Park Bandstand, leaders took to the stage and explained each of their five demands while encouraging crowd engagement to discuss their importance.
For Normal West High School graduate Jeremiah Cox, attending the event was important because when he was in seventh grade he had his first racist experience at Kingsley Junior High.
“I was in class with students who thought it was OK to say the N-word and sometimes they’d write on paper ‘N-word pass’ and showed it to people as they walked by,” Cox said.
Cox also attended a rally against racism and in-school bias at Normal West two weeks ago.
“I still have friends who are younger than me who attend Normal West, and I always try to make decisions that five years from now I can look back and say I’d still do the same. So being here is important because I want to make sure for them it’s a better experience and things aren’t just said, but put to action,” Cox said.
After detailing their demands, BLM BloNo group leaders broke the crowd into two groups for a workshop. Instructing Black attendees to stand on one side and non-Blacks on the other, the activity allowed one group to focus on coming up with a strategy of execution for the demands, while the other was given different problematic statements that opened conversation for how to respond and gave an opportunity to experience various moments in a Black person’s shoes.
Group leader Cinnamon Porter said the activity was successful.
“We got folks together to figure out who has the power when it comes to executing our demands and influencing those folks to make them realize the demands of Black Lives Matter are important and necessary for change,” Porter said.
Butts said doing such an activity was important because organizers wanted to ensure the public had a hand in how they execute each demand moving forward.
“We focused on different demands with the goal to put together work teams,” Butts said. “Those teams will work towards specific demands, and as we bring more people in we can actually create some strategies to achieve what we want.”
Former member of the group, Theartis Butler, said his attendance was invigorating as he’s been anxious to see change after George Floyd’s death.
“After George Floyd’s passing, the 8 minutes and 46 seconds we all had to endure in watching someone pass away should’ve been the final nail in the coffin of the consciousness of America,” Butler said. “For a very long time we’ve put Band-Aids on knife wounds because we really don’t tackle the reasons why we have so many issues in our society, which is the original sin of racism. I'm here to move the needle forward because we have a long way to go on the road of progress.”
The group is hopeful for an invitation to have more conversation with community leaders. Butts said some officials already have reached out to show their support.
“We've had some folks in positions like the McLean County Board, Normal Town Council, and the Bloomington City Council reach out to us, and we've heard things through their interviews,” she said. “A lot of candidates who are planning on running reached out to us to say, yes, we support the black leadership who've created these demands, so it makes a difference.”
Butler said the presence of a group like Black Lives Matter during such a time has made a difference because it’s reignited the power of being able to speak out.
“I love BLM because I feel like every movement we’ve had in the past, no matter what African Americans have said or how we’ve done it, whether we’ve sat, walked, or kneeled, we’re told that how we protest is wrong,” he said, “One of my favorite activists, Harry Belafonte, said, ‘Your oppressor will never be happy with how you protest,’ and they shouldn’t be. So I think BLM activates that uncomfortable conversation that Americans need to have because we tend to close our eyes to the harsh reality of what’s going on.”