Pastor Ken Gates raised his megaphone and turned to the more than 300 people who showed up with signs and face masks to march through Newberry on Saturday, June 13th.
“Say black lives matter,” Gates announced, and the crowd responded in unison as they started to move away from the Martin Luther King Community Center and toward the destination – Newberry City Hall about mile away.
“No Justice, no peace,” Gates shouted and the crowd again responded, “No justice, no peace.”
The event was organized by Newberry resident and former commissioner Alena Lawson and a group called “Concerned Citizens of Newberry.”
Lawson is a former lieutenant for the Gainesville Police Department who now serves Alachua County as the chief investigator for the Eighth Circuit Public Defenders Office.
“On behalf of the Concerned Citizens of Newberry we are proud,” Lawson said before the crowd began to march. “We hope you are and hopefully we’ll all get an education by the end of the day.”
With an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office vehicle escort, the crowd made up of young and old, diverse ethnicities, elected officials and mostly Newberry residents slowly made its way down quiet streets with residents standing roadside watching them pass.
Marchers filed onto the front lawn of Newberry City Hall and under the shade of pecan trees listened to speakers and took a knee to recognize the death of George Floyd and many others.
Lawson told the crowd that every year in January there is a march in Newberry on Martin Luther King Day that marches for the same cause, “Equality and justice for all.”
The crowd sang the ‘Negro National Anthem’ lead by Marsha Lee of Bethel AME Church in Newberry.
‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, is often referred to as the Black national anthem is a song written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson in 1900.
Mayor Jordan Marlowe addressed the crowd and thanked them for coming out to march. “I can’t pretend to even understand the pain that some of our neighbors are feeling right now.
“But I know that they are in pain. And I know that when someone comes to me and says ‘I’m in pain,’ it’s not my job to question, it’s not my job to ask, it’s not my job to argue, it’s my job to say ‘what can I do to help?’ ”
“And that’s what each and every one of you is doing today. I want our community to listen to the pain and ask ‘what can I do to help?’
“Let’s fix this today,” Marlowe said. “So that our kids don’t have to fix it tomorrow.”
The First Vice President of the Alachua County NAACP Cary Bryant spoke next. “We’ve got more allies now and we can get more done,” he said, and reminded the crowd that this is an election year.
“I’m looking at all of the young faces,” Bryant said. “You are the future. If you are old enough to vote, please vote,” he said. “It’s time to change.”
Founder of the Rosewood Foundation Lizzie Jenkins told the crowd that she has been on this personal journey for Rosewood for 28 years. “I’m glad for the support,” she said. “It’s about time I am heard.”
“My main focus was to bring peace and healing for my Rosewood family. I’m proud I’ve got help.”
“With the greatest amount of respect, I am honored to read these names,” she said, and listed the names of seven people who were lynched in Newberry in 1916.
She then named several unarmed black people killed by police including George Floyd. Whose death, she said, “Has made history.”
Lawson addressed the crowd. “I am a retired lieutenant of the Gainesville Police Department,” she said. “Presently I am the chief investigator at the public defenders office. At one time, I used to arrest the people. Now we are defending them.
“My motivation for wanting to have this march is that I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said referring to the killing and use of excessive force against unarmed black people.
Lawson said she is “sick and tired of the “divisiveness” in the City of Newberry. “Our city is divided by the railroad tracks,” she said. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
She said 80 to 85 percent of police officers do the right thing to which the crowd applauded.
“I challenge you as concerned citizens,” Lawson said urging the crowd to reach out to the sheriff’s department or whatever municipality that is your neighborhood and file a complaint that will start an investigation about unjust actions.
There is a bill in Congress called the Justice and Policing Act 2020 that bans choke holds, no-knock warrants and allows police to be sued, Lawson said, and she urged the crowd to contact their representatives and encourage them to do the right thing. “The time is now.”
She then asked the crowd to repeat three times, “I will vote.”
“For those of you that live in Newberry,” she said. “There are five white male commissioners plus a white male mayor.”
She directed her comment to Newberry voters. “Promise you will change the narrative and support women and minorities the next time they run for an office in that building.”
Lawson then asked participants to respond to her statements as she held up a peace sign with her hand with the chant “no more.”
And they did.
“Will my black son and your black son be stopped because of the color of their skin?”
“Will we allow racist posts on social media and keep silent?”
“Will the police sit back and let fellow officers use excessive force and not intervene and not speak up?”
“No more, no more, no more.”
Lawson then asked the crowd to kneel as she played a tribute song in honor of George Floyd performed by George Powell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DK0aGMwwHcA
And hundreds of participants did kneel and bowed their heads in silence as they listened.
Photos by Mainstreet Daily News Staff Photographer Suzette Cook.