A Black Lives Matter protest in the unincorporated community of Deadwood on Saturday attracted up to 60 attendees. Organizers planned the event as an outlet for children to stand in solidarity with the widespread movement. It's only one step organizers said they are taking in the fight for racial justice in their community.
In the parking lot of a post office, a large "Black Lives Matter" sign could be seen driving West on Highway 36. Though the banner was a temporary display, it signified ongoing conversations occurring within the predominantly white community.
For Deadwood community member Kinouani Sompa, who identifies as Congolese American Filipino, living in a rural community has been a welcoming experience. He moved from the San Francisco Bay Area six years ago. He attended the event with his wife and two children.
Until recently, Sompa said he used to feel the need to make himself smaller out of fear the color of his skin would make people uncomfortable. But, he's no longer afraid to be himself he told KLCC.
“I came out to support after conversations with people who don’t really get some of the things that are going on, why we’re standing up, partly I assume, it’s from growing up in a rural area where you’re not exposed to as much,” he said.
Sompa said the Black Lives Matter movement has empowered him to speak out about his past experiences with racism and discrimination. Since he can't participate in larger protests due to COVID-19 and family commitments, he said he's having conversations with his six-year-old son and others as a way to make change.
“I made buddies with a UPS driver, he’s been curious and has been asking questions, and so I’ve shared some of the things I’ve experienced and just seeing how it gave him some things to think about and he brought that home to his family to share it,” he said. "[I'm] noticing the rippling effects."
Sompa recognized rural places can be uncomfortable for people of color. But, he said if it's their dream to live in the outskirts, like it is for him, they should try, even if they are afraid.
Organizers Shoshanna Holman and her mother Michelle Holman planned the protest that included a sign making event for children the day before. They both said they wanted rural communities to be included in nationwide protests against racial injustices faced by Black people, including police brutality.
“This is a moment where we can’t turn a blind eye, we have to face the facts that were are upholding systems of white supremacy,” said Shoshanna.
Shoshanna said the event is just one step she's taken recently to support the movement. She's started "white accountability" groups and a book club featuring books like "So You Want to Talk About Race" by Ijeoma Oluo.
"There’s a lot of work to do and we have to educate each other, that’s what Black leaders and activists are asking of us," Shoshanna said.
Both Shoshanna and Michelle agreed that rural communities offer unique opportunities to engage with one another. Shonna grew up in Deadwood and Michelle has lived in the community for close to 50 years. They noted having relationships within the community helps when entering difficult conversations, especially about race.
Many people move to rural communities, Michelle said, to avoid "difficulty" and that often translates to thinking they are excused from the national discourse. She said people in her community have told her they're not complicit in racism.
“A common thread is ‘well I’m not a racist,’ ‘it wasn’t me’...’love sees no color and I love everyone,’"Michelle said. "Unfortunately, that erases Black people’s existence, and it’s not very empathic."
Michelle said this moment is an opportunity to hold conversations with the intent to "show people no matter where you are now, you can be a better version of yourself," she said.
“We’re seeing protests all over the world that decry police brutality, so I think that for whatever reason this moment is the tipping point...we have to capitalize on that,” Michelle said.
The protest remained peaceful despite concerns over a recent hit-and-run in Eugene. Michelle Holman said they worked with the Rural Organizing Project to implement safety measures in case counter protesters arrived. Michelle told KLCC Saturday evening no counter protesters showed up after the event concluded.
Copyright 2020 KLCC