| Newark Advocate
NEWARK – The death of George Floyd in an incident with police in Minneapolis in May sparked protests and unrest against racism and police brutality in cities across the country.
Several peaceful protests were organized in Licking County during the summer months, including some by local high school students. Rallies took place in Newark, Heath, Granville and Pataskala.
One of the first rallies in Newark, the Together We Rise rally, gathered over 150 people around the Licking County’s courthouse for about two hours. Another peaceful protest that took place just days later turned the event into a dance party briefly attended by a Newark police officer.
More: Newark’s peaceful protest against racism turns into a dance party
Newark co-organizer Joshua Jenkins, who later co-organized the Community Alliance for Racial Justice with Newark-based Jamie Holderman in Licking County, said in June that they organized the rally because the United States has a problem and wants to see unity .
“We want to see everyone together,” he said. “The senseless black murders are getting out of hand.”
In June, two students from Newark and Heath City Schools organized events in their communities. 16-year-old Carmen Lewandowski from Newark organized a protest and candlelight vigil on June 19.
“It starts at the local level. We want a national change, but we have to start locally,” said Lewandowski in June. “We have to invest in our hoods. We have to raise house prices. We have to improve education. And reduce drug use and abuse … It’s not just a black problem that only we can fix.”
More: Newark Teen organizes a candlelight vigil for black lives affected by abuse and oppression
Heath student Jadyn Paige also organized a student forum against racism in June in Heath’s Geller Park. Addressing students from Licking County, Paige told The Advocate that she hoped this would provide education on the fight against racism and microaggression.
“Don’t just take these thoughts with you tonight, take them into your life,” Paige told the crowd at the end of the event. “There is no regression here. Only progress. You know how, when you are stuck in your room with a mosquito and how it bothers and worries you? Let us be that mosquito in the room. I am the mosquito in the room.”
More: Licking County students promote racism discussion at the Heath Forum
Both teenagers later became board members when the Licking County’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was reactivated in August.
Bryanna Stigger, chapter president of NAACP Licking County, said her board of directors has been thrilled with the momentum they have gained in the community, from partnering to exceeding their original membership goal.
“One of the biggest highlights, I’d say, is our scholarship fund in Licking County. We actually started the first black indigenous people with color scholarships in Licking County,” she said. “It was really monumental because it was Licking County’s first BIPOC grant.”
For the coming year, Stigger is planning a six-week series to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month. They hope to use the series as an opportunity to educate and strengthen voices, she said.
CARJ co-founder Holderman reflected on the progress she has seen in the community over the past few months.
“I see a lot of people who are willing to do this work to work towards racial justice,” she said. “In the past, it wasn’t even a conversation I heard. The fact that it goes beyond the conversation and moves on to actual work is really encouraging to me – (but) we still have a long way to go.”
Holderman noted how exciting it was not to have two from any organization in Licking County that specifically focused on serving the community’s black population.
Looking ahead to 2021, Holderman said they plan to raise awareness about Juneteenth. With the pandemic, she admitted that they may not be able to physically bring the community together as they hoped, but they hope to educate the community about the importance of Juneteenth and why they want to celebrate it.