Oregon State University students, Corvallis, Ore. community members and Oregon residents aim to spread awareness about racial inequalities in their communities in order to incite change and support the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement passed 100 consecutive days of protesting in Portland, Ore. These protests were sparked after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who both died at the hands of police officers. Protests in downtown Portland have drawn the attention of the nation, including President Donald Trump, after a counter-protester was shot and killed on Aug. 29.
Corvallis also continues its support for the movement as a peaceful Black Lives Matter march took place in downtown Corvallis on Saturday, Aug. 8, starting in Central Park. This march drew hundreds of people holding signs and chanting in support of the BLM movement. Participants spoke out about their experiences with racism in the past, as well as what it means to be a person of color in an area that many feel lacks racial diversity. Previous protests in Corvallis have also drawn crowds with at least one hundred participants each time.
Jam Ventura, a community activist and chemical engineering student at OSU, was asked to speak by the protest’s organizers, Lily Abrams and Sandee Stewart. Ventura began the afternoon by acknowledging the traditional homeland of the Mary’s River or Ampinefu Band of Kalapuya that Corvallis was built upon.
Jonathan Willis, a basketball coach for South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Wash. and motivational speaker, performed a spoken-word piece titled, “Hey You!”.
“The one you heard today was an original piece, it’s...the opening for a diversity and inclusion workshop that I teach. That’s what inspired that piece. It’s about identifying stereotypes and then moving beyond those mental barriers to learn [about] people for who they really are,” Willis said in an interview.
Powerful lines in the piece such as, “I’m not ‘hey you,’ I’m really just me” captivated the audience. Willis said active listening, empathy, conflict resolution and “getting in shape mentally” are all important aspects of strong allyship—or someone who is an ally and stands in solidarity with a marginalized person or group of people.
Next, Corvallis resident Camryn Washington spoke about her experiences with racism in her childhood and in the present day. She described how she felt blinded by the media’s depiction of what a Black girl’s life should be, how her culture was erased and her history was falsified. The audience audibly gasped when Washington recounted experiences of being called “pretty for a Black girl” as a young adult.
“I didn’t realize that the color of my skin still shackled me to a predetermined fate,” Washington said.
Ventura spoke once again, against the erasure of Black lives and the persistent fight against police brutality.
“We are out here to create a world for Black folks to not just have to survive, but they can thrive,” Ventura said. “We are out here for the blue-collar Black lives. For the trans Black lives. For the fat, young, old, HIV-positive, helpless, imprisoned, self-employed, unemployed, poor, veteran, disabled Black lives.”
Once the march began moving out of Central Park, hundreds of protesters began chanting, calling the attention of passing cars and homeowners along the way to the courthouse.
Chants included, “Who’s streets? Our streets!” and “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” “2, 4, 6, 8 stop the violence, stop the hate,” “Old Jim Crow, New Jim Crow, the whole system has got to go,” and others. In response, cars honked, people waved and cheered and signs were held up high in the air.
At the courthouse, the floor was opened up and a few speakers talked about the importance of communication, continued allyship, love and empathy. After community members and students spoke, protest participants continued to hold signs and stand in front of the courthouse on Fourth Street.
In an interview, Willis spoke about the experiences he has had that inspired him to take part in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I remember the first car I purchased was a Nissan Tiger, the first car that I bought brand new, and I remember being pulled over and having the K-9 walk around my vehicle and the cop was like, ‘get out of the car, what do you do for a living to drive a truck like this?’ and at no point was it like, ‘license and registration?’” Willis recalled. “I’m in a very unique position because we live in a town called Woodburn, Oregon...which is very, very white, and so for a lot of people I am theBlack guy that they know.”
Willis also spoke about the worries he felt for the world that his two daughters are going to live in, and the frustration that comes from racist comments directed at him, such as, “wow, you’re so well spoken.”
In reference to the divide between the Black Lives Matter movement and the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter counter-movements, Willis said, “Can you imagine if your home was burning, and fire station truck one and fire station truck two both pulled up, and they argued over which jurisdiction it is? While your house goes up in flames? Wouldn’t you just want somebody to turn some water on? I think we need to get back to thinking critically and valuing the differences that each other brings.”
According to Alex Enderle, a fourth-year OSU student studying chemical and ecological engineering, what he hopes to come from the Black Lives Matter movement is “a complete redesign of the police force since it’s like, obviously it's a majority of Black people that the system is messing with. But it's definitely an everyone issue, there’s numerous cases of unarmed white people being shot down for no reason and in exactly the same manner,” Enderle said. “So I’m just hoping that we can end all police brutality and stop having police walking around with guns like they’re in a warzone, and more walking around like community helpers, like ‘hi, how can I help you’ instead of ‘hi, what have you done wrong?’”
According to Ventura, Black Lives Matter is just the beginning. They said, “the revolution is here, whether you like it or not… this is Civil Rights 2.0 right here.”
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. These issues are all interconnected and it only takes a little bit of research to figure out how they are interconnected,” Ventura said. “When it comes to DISARM OSU, and we talk about police brutality, Black lives are disproportionately affected by police brutality—but that does not mean that other races are not affected. That’s not true. Police brutality affects all races, it just happens that Black people are affected most right now. But everyone should have a problem with police brutality.”