by Emery Wright (Atlanta, Project South)
The last quarter mile of the Walk for Dignity marched past the Sanford Police Department, a building larger than most of the houses on the block combined. The Station sits on the boundary of Goldsboro, one of the oldest Black cities in Florida. As we walked into Goldsboro, the Florida afternoon rain started coming down. Each day of the walk from Jacksonville to Sanford, the rain came, we pulled out the ponchos, and we kept walking. Today, the last day of the walk, it was just us, 75 strong walking to the monument that the community built for Trayvon. We didn’t stop, we didn’t pause. Our chants got louder, more guttural and we danced for dignity in a torrential downpour. We were moved by a spirit, and we sang for some kind of justice that could liberate us from justified killings, the growing hate we could feel in the air, and the fear that people told us kept them inside their homes.
The Walk for Dignity was organized in five days after a series of morning calls with over 10 organizations in the Southern Movement Assembly. The New Jim Crow Movement called for the walk, and as an organization on the frontlines of the crisis in Florida, they anchored the process. As organizations on the frontlines of crisis across the South, we recognized that the verdict represents a broader system that kills Black people with impunity and allows poverty to worsen without an end in sight.
Rooted in the local consciousness, we set our demands to fire Angela Corey, the prosecutor who has locked up more young people of color for longer sentences than any district in the country, and to free Marissa Alexander who was sentenced to 20 years for protecting herself without injuring anyone. These demands expressed the rage many felt towards a system of systemic racism represented by Angela Cory & the mistreatment represented towards Marissa Alexander.
We walked through the sites of colonialism and into Fort Mose where free Africans escaped and converged with indigenous resisters. We walked over the territory of the slaveholding Confederacy and into St. Augustine where Martin Luther King Jr. worked with civil rights forces when they were not allowed into Jacksonville. We walked into today’s hostility - a regenerated racism manifested in 9 year olds swearing at our group from car windows and a tension in Sanford that has led to more violence since Trayvon’s death.
We walked into the George Washington Carver Community Center in Bunnell and held a spontaneous youth speak-out. We were welcomed at churches like movement sanctuaries. Pastor Charlene Cothran said, “When I heard the verdict I was so angry, I wanted to do something. And when I got the call from Pastor Glasgow, I knew that something had come to me.” She opened up her storefront church, and we held an Assembly about the root causes of this verdict and the long-term solutions that we must fight for. Jacksonville residents traveled down to meet us where we stayed. People saw us walking Mary McCloud Bethune Ave in Daytona Beach and joined us to walk the next day. Labor Councils, African-American Cultural Centers, and residents found us to contribute money, water, bread, and support. They told us they were so glad to know that they could do something, anything in this moment.
We walked to slow down the pace of our movement response. We walked to confront a power that denies us the ability to simply walk through our own neighborhoods. We walked to confront a racist court verdict that publicly excused and encouraged the cold blooded killing of a innocent Black child.
The organizations and community members who walked recognize that we cannot seek solutions to this crisis from within the same system that created it. We look to each other as communities and leaders who will determine the best course of action to create safety and resilience for ourselves, our children, and our families. As Southern Freedom Movement organizers, we are regenerating forms of community governance to build our own power through the Peoples Movement Assembly process. The Walk represents a significant example of the power and potential of the process to respond to crisis and attacks on our communities. We are committed to continue fighting for our demands and to converge Southern movement forces with our allies on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington to launch a renewed strategic platform for change.