Seeing Unity Demonstration diversity ‘powerful’ for local youth

Dov Emerson was among the hundreds of young people who came together Sunday for the George’s Peaceful Unity Demonstration.

The rally was the Holland area’s biggest Black Lives Matter protest to date. In recent weeks, protests have taken place across the country and around the world following the death of George Floyd at the hands or Minneapolis Police officers last month.

Emerson, a 20-year-old Hope College student and a lifelong Holland resident, was both surprised and thrilled to see the crowd, estimated at more than 3,000 people.

“Seeing it in the town I grew up in is pretty powerful,” says Emerson.

Over the past several days, Emerson has been raising awareness on social media by posting memes and videos on Instagram and Twitter. When he heard a protest was planned in his hometown, he decided he had to take part.

“I’ve been discriminated against and profiled my whole life by them,” he says of the police.

Diverse crowd

The event, co-organized by Lily Harman, 18, drew hundreds of young people amid the diverse crowd of all ages. She was one of three teens who spoke at a rally in a grassy field just east of Dutton Park.

Afterward, protesters carrying signs and chanting “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Black Lives Matter” walked on the grassy knoll along Douglas Avenue and then turned down River Avenue. They then split into two groups to stand along both sides of the Unity Bridge, which connects the city of Holland and Holland Township.

Passing vehicles honked in support.

Little police presence

There was little police presence when compared to other Michigan protests, although the event was coordinated with the Holland Police Department.

“I don’t even understand why they’re here at all; it’s a peaceful protest,” says Emerson.

Without the lines of riot police, tear gas, and displays of force, the protest is a much calmer environment, observes Anisa Reynolds, 20.

She held a sign with President Barack Obama’s farewell words, “but laws won’t be enough, hearts must change.”

The protest was Reynolds’ second. She attended her first in Grand Rapids, where several have been held.

Protests key to change

She believes the protests will be key to long-lasting change.

“It’s great to see so many people being supportive, especially people who aren’t of color,” Reynolds says. “That’s what we need, more white allies.”

If white allies are what the Black Lives Matter movement seeks, Holland obliged. The march was led by people of color, but the crowd comprised mostly white people who chose to stand against racism and police brutality.

Reynolds has been even more active online. The Gen Zer, a moniker for those born between 1995 and 2019, shares articles on Facebook in hopes of educating those around her.

Social media essential

Social media has been critical to the recent protest movement. Many younger participants discovered the Holland protest through Facebook. Rapid dissemination of information through social media is one reason large protests are able to form quickly and effectively.

In Minneapolis, where protests first erupted following Floyd’s death, the city council has announced its intent to disband the police department and invest in community-led public safety. As this news quickly spreads, real change seems within reach.

Reynolds and Emerson agree that being part of the change is an amazing feeling. As community youth, they recognize they are the ones who will lead in the future and are committed to making it just.

“As a black woman, this means everything to me,” Reynolds says, “fighting to be seen, fighting to be heard and be equal. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all human.”

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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