BY ANNISTON WEBER
Black Lives Matter demonstrations are still sweeping the nation and making their way into small towns. On Saturday morning, a gathering of people met to protest in Russell. The crowd of about 75 individuals sat by the Russell County Courthouse to listen to four different speakers discuss what the Black Lives Matter movement means to them as well as the injustices they have faced while living in the rural Midwest.
Charles Law, a resident of Russell, witnessed the protests happening around the country and decided that a local demonstration would be beneficial to the community.
“We are here for us to come together and talk to one another,” Law said. “I want everyone to hear these people speak out in a peaceful way that helps us understand each other.”
Like several of the protests around the country, the demonstration in Russell included a nine-minute moment of silence to represent the amount of time Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck resulting in Floyd’s death on May 25.
“You never really realize just how long nine minutes is until you sit in silence and just let that time pass,” Law said.
Russell Law Enforcement attended the protest in a show of solidarity and support. Russell County Sheriff, Fred Whitman, said he had never seen something like this protest happen in the small town.
“I am very proud of the group of people here today,” he said. “The peacefulness of it is great, and the community should be proud of those who are choosing to speak out.”
Nick Eiden, a local pastor, was one of the speakers who discussed how the Black Lives Matter movement relates to moments in the Bible as well as his personal growth in understanding how racial injustice impacts those around him.
“If you are not angry, if you are not outraged, then you are not paying attention,” Eiden said. “And I have to apologize, because for a long time I was not paying attention. It’s been far too easy for me to use my privilege to simply assume that all people were treated the same way that I have been.”
Eiden said he attributes his understanding and awakening to the movement to God.
“People of color in this country are still routinely and systematically subjected to injustice, prejudice, and racism,” he said. “We stand today still fighting for all people to be treated equally. God created everyone in His image, there is no separation of races in heaven.”
Another local pastor, Ray Morris, also spoke about his experiences with racial injustice and prejudice.
“If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll just keep getting what you’ve been getting,” Morris said. “It can’t stop right here. You’ve got to do the right thing at work, at home, and everywhere else in your life. Look within and treat everyone the way you’d want to be treated.”
Following his speech, a small group of youth dancers from the Second Baptist Church in Russell performed an interpretive dance to the song “Break Every Chain” by Tasha Cobbs.
Hunter Brown, a lifetime resident of Russell, discussed how his viewpoint has dramatically changed over the years as his eyes were opened to the experiences of his friends of different races.
“Hatred is taught,” Brown said. “Seven years ago, I would’ve been across the street protesting this demonstration because I didn’t agree with it. But I disagreed because I was ignorant. My surroundings and the people I grew up with made me believe in the stereotypes about other races.”
Brown condemned the person he used to be, saying he wished his ignorance had not lasted as long as it did.
“I was an angry boy,” he said. “But, it would seem in this town we still have angry boys who are still coming from a place of not understanding. That’s why we are here today.”
Law closed out the demonstration by commending the crowd for being present and listening to each of the speakers.
“We have people from all walks of life here,” he said. “We stayed peaceful, despite what some of the community thought would happen, and we were hopefully able to get a good message across. This won’t be the last time Russell does something like this. We’re going to keep speaking up.”