For the second straight Sunday, hundreds of people gathered near the App State library and marched to the Watauga County Courthouse as part of a Black Lives Matter protest.
The June 7 protest, or “Justice Walk,” was organized and led by Raheim Andrews, a UNC Charlotte student who moved to Boone his sophomore year of high school. The crowd of about 1,000 people — nearly all who were wearing masks as a precaution against COVID-19 — filled the street in front of the courthouse.
“Never in my life have I ever done anything like this before,” Andrews said. “This is the most important thing I have ever done in my life and I’m just blessed that God chose me to lead this today.”
For two weeks, crowds have demonstrated in cities across the nation and world to protest racism, injustice and police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A video circulated of Floyd being held on the ground by police officers, with Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes while Floyd repeatedly told officers that he couldn’t breathe.
When Andrews organized the march, he called interim Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau to help plan for the safety of everyone.
Le Beau and App State Police Chief Andy Stephenson also walked with Andrews to the courthouse.
“(Andrews) wanted myself and Chief Stephenson to walk with him, as he said, ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ up to the courthouse,” Le Beau said. “He set the stage of let’s move forward together and do this work.”
Le Beau also briefly spoke to the crowd at the courthouse, where he said it was an honor to speak at a Black Lives Matter rally.
Reggie Hunt, pastor at Cornerstone Summit Church, led the marchers in a prayer before the group left for the courthouse.
“We have to have more conversations within our reach and make incremental change before we can make major systematic and systemic change,” Hunt said after the march. “Seeing people come out here is an amazing thing. In my 25 years of being in Boone, this is one of the more special moments for me.”
Other than the protest on May 31, Hunt said he can’t remember seeing anything like this in Boone.
Once the marchers got to the courthouse, chants of “What’s his name?” and “Black Lives Matter” rang out from the crowd. After 20 minutes of chants, Andrews’ sister sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” referred to as the “Black National Anthem,” before Andrews spoke to the crowd.
“What sets these names apart from the black community that are here in attendance today? What sets them apart?” Andrews asked the crowd. “They are peacefully gathered here today. They are unarmed. They have families that love them and families that need them.”
He also talked about racism he has faced in Boone, including how he had been called the N-word in high school while playing soccer, and how he doesn’t want that for his sister, who will be in high school next year.
After Andrews spoke, Hunt gave a speech and invoked his grandfather’s words, who was also a pastor.
“We bear in our souls the imprint of the image of God, but we’ve been denied the fundamental right to have, to hold and the right to belong,” Hunt told the crowd. “Our agonies of segregation are the agonies of suffocation. We are cut off from the sources of full life being separated from that which we belong to.”
After Hunt concluded his speech, Toussaint Romain, deputy general counsel at App State and a civil rights activist, gave an impassioned speech to the crowd — invoking the “I have a dream” speech from Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and police officers will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood and enjoy each other,” Romain said. “I have a dream that one day, my children will grow up in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Romain passionately spoke to the crowd for over 15 minutes.
When Romain ended his speech, the crowd knelt on the street in front of the courthouse silently for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time Floyd was pinned to the ground by Chauvin. Once the time was up, the crowd rose and cheered together before heading back to the App State library circle, where they dispersed.
Alex Fuller, 22, and Montana Mills, 19, have both been in the Boone area for about eight years.
“Growing up as a very small group of minorities in Boone and not being very well represented — seeing all these allies come out today and show their voice and make it known that they are here with us has been kind of overwhelming and heartwarming to see how many people care,” Fuller said.
Mills said to see the crowd, after facing acts of racism herself in high school, is very heartwarming.
“I hope it doesn’t only stop at this walk. I hope it continues with them calling out their racist friends and maybe telling someone ‘maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say,’” Mills said. “I’m very proud of this community today.”
John Doherty, 56, has lived in Boone for 27 years. He said he came to the June 7 protest because of the horrible injustice of systemic racism.
One line from a speaker — “when you see a bunch of fish are dead, it’s time to think maybe what’s wrong with the water rather than something’s wrong with the fish” — spoke to Doherty.
“That really spoke to me as to why I’m out here because it’s a systemic thing that needs to be fixed,” Doherty said. “It’s not a few bad cops. It’s the system that allows a few bad cops to do very bad things.”
Molly Moore, 33, has lived in Boone for nine years and came to the march because of everything that’s happening in the country.
“I’ve been paying so much attention to everything that is going on in the country,” Moore said. “To have the opportunity to answer a call from local, young black leaders to stand up and stand in solidarity — I just felt I couldn’t not show up.”
She said it was incredibly powerful to hear from the speakers and that she feels “so much awareness” of how much work has to be done and how “we have to keep showing up more than just a single march.”
“I think (the speakers) really spoke to the need for us to keep showing up and keep doing the work,” Moore said. “I’m really grateful for the organizers who put their time — they’re already experiencing so much grief and anger over this — to create this opportunity to stand together.”
As part of the march, Andrews helped set up voter registration cards to pass out to protestors.
Andrews said he views voting as a way to start change.
“Voting is a very important part and I feel like kids — 18 to that 30 area — we don’t really vote and it’s sad to see that because we are very vocal in a lot of the political views that we have, but it all starts with going out and voting and doing stuff like that,” Andrews said.
After the march, Andrews said it went way better than he could have planned.
“I think that today, Boone really heard us and they stood with us and listened. I think that’s all that I could have asked for for today,” Andrews said. “I’m just glad everything went peaceful and I’m excited to see the next step that Boone takes into action for appreciating the black community and also hearing our cries when we go through injustices.”