Undeterred by rain, protests continued in DeFuniak Springs and Navarre Sunday bringing together hundreds of people waving signs and chanting against police brutality and systemic racism.
About 500 people gathered at Harbeson Field and walked a half mile to Wayside Park, across the street from DeFuniak City Hall, waving signs and chanting “No Justice, No Peace.” Some cars driving by honked in appreciation. One man in an orange tractor gave a friendly wave.
The event’s organizer, Jalen Jones, said he wanted the event to be about unity, and create a space for people to comfortably talk about racism. As someone who grew up in DeFuniak Springs, he knew it needed to happen.
“We’re stretching muscles that have never been stretched,” he said before the event. “This starts the healing process. People will walk away different; I truly believe that in my heart.”
Before the march, Jones called out names of black victims of police violence, beginning with Trayvon Martin and finishing with George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody when Derek Chauvin, a white officer, knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
But police violence against black men and women didn’t begin in 2012 with Trayvon Martin. Leo Rodgers III, said the memory of being assaulted by police in 1995 in Detroit, Michigan is etched in his mind.
“I made it. I’m still here. (George) Floyd isn’t,” said Rodgers. “Will Smith said it best — racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
Rodgers came to the protest with his daughter and granddaughter to “to be counted and show solidarity with the community.” And he was impressed to see a diverse sea of people.
People like Connie Campbell, who said the protests and stories are helping to wake people up. Herself included.
“I never heard the horror stories about how much more African Americans are getting pulled over for no violations, or the fears black mothers have for their sons,” she said. “Now, we see … we’ve been blind. It’s time to open up our eyes and use our voices to speak for change.”
Born and raised in DeFuniak Springs, Sandra Delegol said she remembers sitting in the back room of restaurants; the water fountains that said “for whites only”; and having to sit upstairs at movie theaters. She’s protesting so her two grandsons, aged 9 and 16, don’t have to live through what she lived through. But she didn’t expect to see so many others with her.
“Think these young people are going to make the change,” she said. “It’s absolutely amazing. And thank God for the young people because we’re getting too old for it.”
Originally, the march was supposed to go to the county courthouse, where a small group of people from groups such as Bikers for Trump and Southern Heritage were waiting to protect a Confederate monument in case of vandalism. However, there were no incidents. As the event was ending, Jones held up a megaphone and told protestors not to visit the courthouse.
In Santa Rosa County Sunday evening under pouring rain, protesters gathered in Navarre Park for the Navarre Peace March. It was the third protest at the park in a week. One of the organizers, Dwayne Carter, said he was inspired by the ongoing protest at the Graffiti Bridge in Pensacola and wanted to be a part of the change.
The event was also organized by former University of West Florida wide receiver and Navarre resident Quentin Randolph. Addressing the crowd of around 200, Randolph stressed that now is the time to call out racism.
“The fact that you’re out here in this rain, in this weather, shows that you want change and that’s all I can ask for,” he said. “This is an uncomfortable topic to talk about — imagine how uncomfortable it is to live it. You’ve got to be able to speak on it.”
UWF head football coach Pete Shinnick provided the opening prayer Sunday evening, giving support to his former player. Like a lot of people, he wants to see change.
“This is a great show of unity,” he said. “People are aware. Awareness is at an all-time high — and it needs to be for change to take place.”
The rain came down on people and their signs as they walked across the park’s parking lot. Afterward, people stood in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to honor the death of George Floyd.
Navarre’s event was encouraging for 16-year-old Destiny Juzang who said she’s been aware of racism since kindergarten. As a black girl in a predominately white school at Navarre High School, she’s been active on social media to share voices from people of color. On Sunday she got to see she wasn’t entirely alone.
“I’m proud of my community and happy to see that we’re not alone in this,” she said. “A lot of the world can be blind and ignorant toward these subjects, and I like to see how people are actively trying to make themselves better.”