Newberry resident and former commissioner Alena Lawson says the March for Justice and Equality will happen on Saturday June 13th in Newberry, “rain or shine.”
Lawson, who is the chief investigator for the Eighth Circuit Public Defenders office and a former police officer, says she sees the disparity in treatment that happens in the court system every day.
“I use to make arrests, now we defend people ,” Lawson said and described where she sees a difference in treatment for black people as “disproportionate in jail, higher bonds, sentencing.”
The March For Justice and Equality will start at 10 a.m. at the MLK Community Center on 6th Avenue and continue to Newberry City Hall where Evelyn Foxx of the Alachua County NAACP will speak and Newberry Resident Marsh Lee will sing “The Negro National Anthem” as the community gathers around the flag pole.
“If we have 50 people show up,” Lawson said she’ll be happy about the predicted 60 percent chance of rain.
“When I think about the Civil Rights Movement and when they were hosed, a little bit of rain can’t hurt us one bit.”
Lawson said she also participates in a march each year celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. but that this march represents a void in her hometown.
“We have been a divided Newberry for a long time,” she says.
“If we would educate, motivate and inspire people to do things there might be change. Write your congressman, attend a commission meeting,” are ways to be heard she says.
“There is no diversity on our commission and it does not reflect our community,” Lawson said about the current all white male representation on the Newberry Commission which she served on for 13 years.
“Demand a seat at the table and demand that your voice be heard,” she says. “It’s about trying to change the narrative.”
Lawson said as a former police officer, watching the recent treatment of black people weighs heavy on her.
“This whole thing is very painful to watch over and over. Enough is enough is enough,” she says about police brutality.
Lawson said law enforcement has to be more diligent in reaching out to the community to connect.
“If cops would get out of their cars and get to know people in the community not just when they want to bash someone’s head against a car,” she says.
Lawson said the event on Saturday requires that marchers wear masks and follow social distancing.
“We’ll have prayer at the beginning,” she says. And beyond the march, Lawson said there will be a voter registration drive.
“It’s about the content of your character,” Lawson says, “Not the color of your skin."
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said he plans to attend the event. "I am proud of our residents for coming together to organize this march," he said.
"We have to learn how to listen to each other, work together, and love each other, especially when we have members of our community in pain. I hope this march is the beginning of a real conversation that brings us a brighter, more equal and just tomorrow.”