Editor’s note: Protesters in cities across the country came out last week to make their feelings known in regard to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Here, Ron Scott, YWCA cultural diversity and community outreach program director, reflects on Wheeling’s demonstration.
I remember thinking, “I’m gonna park waaaaaaaaay down here… just in case. …”
I wasn’t sure how things were gonna go. My invitation from the event organizer Brandi Powell didn’t calm my nerves either. I had never met or spoken to her before. Her Facebook profile said she was from New York. So of course, my head started spinning with conspiracy theories and YouTube videos of fake protests and professional disrupters.
I knew I had to go.
It was too important not to.
So I picked up my two cousins and headed down.
I remember when we got out of the car to begin our walk down to the protest, and since we heard no sirens, police dogs or screaming, we looked at each other and gave a collective “so far so good” shrug.
Once we got closer, we noticed a parked car with a woman in it. She looked at us and shouted a very aggressive “Hey!” We cautiously leaned over and she handed us a Kroger bag with a makeshift first aid kit in it. She then gave a little wink and said, “In case things get out of hand.”
That exchange put us at ease and shaped what the rest of the experience would be like. Strangers who didn’t know us, showing care and concern.
The closer we got, we began to hear the chanting
… and see the signs
… and feel the energy.
It was such a different feeling.
A feeling of unity sounds too cliche and doesn’t quite sum it up.
It was as if every person there,
men and women …
old and young …
Despite their background or motivation for being there, we all seemed to collectively share the sentiment of “enough is enough.”
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Each person who spoke shared pain, hope, plans, empathy and anger.
The lingering whispers of violence and/or destruction faded once we noticed the lack of opposition.
The mayor of the city of Wheeling was standing with us, listening to each and every person who had the bullhorn and microphone.
The city chief of police came out during the height of the protesting and blocked off the entire street to make more space for citizens with voices or concerns. He also dispatched his officers to ensure the streets were cleared for a spontaneous march that was born out of the demonstration.
The elephant in the room of social distancing was also noticeable; but what I thought would make the event look and feel more disjointed and fragmented, did the opposite. The presence of the masks made it look like we were all coordinated with the message of “some things are worth the risk.”
It was a proud moment for me. It made me feel empowered. It made me feel comforted … connected and, most of all, it made me hopeful.
By the time 7 p.m. arrived, I was even more happy that I decided to park farther away. It gave me, my cousins and other protesters time to talk with each other and burn off some of the awesome energy we were filled with. We passed the lady that handed us the Kroger bag. She was still in her car, and with a huge smile, shot us a thumbs up.
We didn’t walk away thinking Wheeling was perfect, or that we had somehow solved the race problem here. We were well aware that parts of our country were literally on fire. We just knew that we hadn’t gotten there yet, and spent the last two hours surrounded by other who wanted to make sure we never did.
Photos by Rosemary Ketchum
• A lifelong Wheeling resident and graduate of Wheeling Park High School, Ron Scott Jr. attended Morehouse College and graduated from West Liberty University. He spent 13 years as a counselor in the field of addictions, working at a variety of agencies. His love for community, justice and creativity has led him to positions such as former president and vice president of the Upper Ohio Valley NAACP, former vice chairman of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, founder of the Ohio Valley African American Students Association, member of Undependent Films, chairman of the Performing Arts Committee of the Wheeling Arts & Culture Commission, and a board member of the Independent Theater Collective. He currently serves as program director of Cultural Diversity and Community Outreach for the YWCA Wheeling.