The heat and possibility of controversy did not stop droves of people from showing up on Sunday for Hillsboro’s first-ever Black Lives Matter March.
The event was started in the brain of Hillsboro resident Shelby Johnson.
Right after the death of George Floyd, she was thinking about it all while at work. She initially thought about doing a cookout with the Hillsboro police department but then the idea kept growing.
“My first step was posting on the Hillsboro, Ks Women’s group on Facebook. From there, I reached out to local law enforcement, to make sure I’d be able to do this without any interference. My next step was reaching out to local government officials. I’m very glad our mayor and police chief agreed that this was a good idea,” said Johnson.
Johnson knew she needed and wanted someone to help her, but she wasn’t quite sure who to ask. She eventually came across Brooklyn Wiens who was organizing her own march for the same weekend.
“Finding Brooklyn was like finding a needle in a haystack. I messaged her and asked if we could collaborate. Things started falling in place then,” said Johnson.
Johnson and Wiens are both passionate about social justice causes and knew they could accomplish big things, but they also knew they would need help to pull the event off. And help showed up in numerous ways.
The evening opened with a picnic and all of the food was donated. Volunteers from First Mennonite Church also served and prepared all the food and did so per COVID-19 restrictions.
Subway donated six dozen cookies and Sonic donated all the condiment packets.
Parkview Church provided tables, tin foil and napkins.
Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church offered a place to keep water bottles cold and provided some extras along with chips and pineapple juice!
Grant Myers loaned his grill and some water coolers.
Tom Harder from First Mennonite Church offered a PA system for the speakers and worship.
“I also had someone privately donate all the buns and hotdogs. That generosity alone shook me. She used her own money for a cause without even asking to be recognized,” said Johnson.
After the picnic and a time of visiting, Johnson welcomed everyone and told them what to expect. She had Grace Major sing Amazing Grace.
Johnson then welcomed various speakers up to the microphone. She began with welcoming Hillsboro Chief of Police Dan Kinning who spoke about reconciliation and how he and his men are trained in using peaceful tactics as much as possible. His men were spread throughout the audience and interacted with citizens during the picnic.
Kinning was happy with the event.
“We went in full uniform because that is the way we are dressed when on shift. I wanted everyone to know who we were and be able to show that we are approachable when on duty. It was nice because a lot of people did approach to talk to us. We were there to support our community. I thought the day went very well,” said Kinning.
Mayor Lou Thurston was up next.
“I loved how he kept it short, sweet and made the point that we need to listen to our black community,” said Johnson.
Thurston also enjoyed the event.
“I was pleased that so many came out to support this event, and to have young people step up to put it on made me proud and hopeful for the future. It is definitely a time for us to listen and to understand,” said Thurston. “The principles that this nation was founded on must work for all, or they work for none. There is a lot of work to be done but I know that this community can and will step up to the challenge.”
A few other speakers came and shared including Miss Kansas Hannah Klaassen and a woman from Wichita named Anitra Steward. Steward brought an activity as well as an art project for children to participate in.
Perhaps the favorite speaker of the evening was Donya Anderson, an Admissions Counselor at Tabor College. As the only black speaker, she was able to share in ways that many of the others speakers could not.
She graciously provided her entire speech is available here, but here is an excerpt that seemed to resonate with the audience.
“White people, I understand if you don’t believe in racism, systemic racism, or inequality. If you have never experienced racism or racial injustices, it is going to be hard for you to grasp. I get it. But the thing is, now you have social media, google, YouTube. You have ways to educate yourself, and it is time for you to get woke. For those of you who do not know what woke means it is to become alert to injustice in society, especially racism. This is what is happening all across the world and there is no longer an excuse! You cannot be afraid of your beliefs or your thoughts anymore. So, what if they are racist?! This is not your identity, it’s not who you are! I would much rather a white person say to me that they have had racists thoughts and issues with this but are working on it rather than someone say ‘I don’t see color’ or ‘We are all brothers and sisters in Christ’. Well yea, but your brown brothers and sisters in Christ have been suffering and it would be great if you acknowledged that and stood with us in the struggle,”
“I’m going to start bridge building. I want to do this with the people that hear Black Lives Matter and respond with ‘but All Lives Matter’. How can all lives matter if the black ones don’t though? See? There is a disconnect. I want to build bridges with people who think racism is a myth, and of course, with people who are like-minded. I have come to understand now, that this is one of the only ways that we are going to truly reach unity. Through seeing different perspectives and fully understanding each other.”
“So, I encourage you, white people. Don’t let fear keep you from having these hard self-reflections, don’t let fear keep you from reaching out and having these conversations to better understand, and definitely don’t let fear keep you from the unity that is coming.”
Johnson acknowledged that Anderson did exactly what she had hoped for when organizing the event.
“She really did educate us, and make us laugh. She brought to light an issue (Tulsa massacre) not very many people, let alone white people, even knew happened. I cannot thank her enough,” said Johnson.
After the speakers, Wiens read the last words of George Floyd while Johnson chose to kneel. The words last for over five minutes and then there were three minutes and 23 seconds of silence. It was a powerful experience and all appeared moved by it. Many were wiping away tears.
“The moment of silence we did was the part I felt was the most touching. Kneeling on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds was rough so I absolutely cannot fathom how the officer who killed George Floyd purposely did that while applying enough pressure to kill a man. It’s baffling. Also hearing his last words again just breaks my heart. I hope people at the event took a lot away from that,” said Johnson.
The event basically ended with the march around the park circle with peaceful chanting.
“The march was my favorite part,” said Johnson. “I was disappointed that none of the officers partook, but wow, was I blown away. I genuinely have a loss for words when describing it. It felt powerful and moving. I gave my all to those chants.”
Many left quietly, even somber, at that point. Some stayed to participate in worship songs.
“The people who showed up to this event showed how strong Hillsboro is and that we will stand against racism in this town. It made me proud to live here when I saw all those faces in the crowd,” said Johnson. “Together we can drive out hate. We can make this a loving, kinder community together. I loved being able to word this as a comm“unity” event. Because now that we can hear our black community, now that we have had the chance to hear their frustrations, we can take a huge step toward unity.”
Johnson’s final summary of the night echoed what many said in various ways.
“This event was humbling and moving. This isn’t the end of Hillsboro’s growth—I think it’s just the beginning,” said Johnson.
Photos all courtesy of Karrie Rathbone