EFFINGHAM — Brandon Marschewski of Effingham described a peaceful rally for social justice in Effingham on Saturday as beautiful.

It made an impact, he said.

Marschewski, 20, who is black, joined roughly 500 others for the demonstration downtown organized by the Effingham Social Justice Group.

"Seeing all this love, this compassion – it re-instills hope inside,” Marschewski said. “I feel like moving forward, things are going to be different. Change will come."

The demonstration in Effingham reflected rallies taking place across the United States following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis after Derek Chauvin, a white officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, pressed his knee to Floyd's neck. Chauvin has been fired and charged with murder.

Floyd's final words were, "I can't breathe." Saturday's demonstrators chanted that plea as they marched around the Effingham County Cultural Center and Museum lawn.

Attendees knelt or laid on their stomachs, mimicking the position Floyd was in while pinned to the ground by Chauvin for nearly nine minutes, the same amount of time Floyd was filmed as he begged for air. Marschewski said those nine minutes at the rally brought him to tears.

"It got me," Marschewski said. "Seeing all the signs, seeing all the different comments and statements and analogies that all these people from different walks of life have that they're bringing to the table, it's beautiful. I feel like it's going to have a major positive impact on Effingham's community."

People young and old touted signs and t-shirts calling for equality, justice and reform. Among those wielding signs were 21-year-olds Alexis Damron and Jenna Wright of Effingham, who are both white.

Damron's sign read, "There comes a time when silence is betrayal." Wright held a poster that read "Humanity should not be up for debate."

"We came out pretty much to just spread awareness to what's going on," Damron said. "It may not be as prevalent in our town, but just because it's not going on really here doesn't mean it's not happening."

"It's just to pretty much start conversations with people who aren't as open to the concept of diversifying our town," Damron added.

Chanting along side the other hundreds of demonstrators was Heather Schmidt and Kiaya Carey, both of Effingham.

Carey is employed in social work. She often sees the disparities blacks and other minorities face, even here in Effingham County.

"I spend a lot of time learning about the world and the injustices that everybody of color face,” Carey said. “Unfortunately, we live in a community that is so shaded and protected from the realities of the world that it's time for that to change.

"Diversity is important and so is respecting cultures. I think until today, a lot of us did not realize how many people felt the same way, and it's just a beautiful thing to see Effingham in this light."

Attendees heard from Matthew Robinson, 19, a 2018 graduate of Effingham High School; his father, the Rev. Willie Love; Terrence Hill, another recent EHS graduate; and Skylar Rogers, who has lived in Altamont for 10 years. They shared their experiences of being black in Effingham and the surrounding communities.

Love encouraged those in attendance to create a “new normal” going forward, saying it's not normal for innocent and unarmed black citizens to be killed by law enforcement.

"There is a personal commitment that everyone must leave here with," Love said. "The pandemic changed our normal, right? We don't do life like we used to because of the pandemic, but because of what has happened, our social normal also and our awareness much change."

"That gentleman is only dead only because it was normal for a person in authority to put his knee on his neck until there was no more life. It was normal with the police officers. It was normal even in the court system," Love continued.

"Everyone leaving here, you must leave here with a different normal, and it will never be normal to stand by and watch someone be treated indifferent in your school, your classroom, on your jobs, in your community. Let that not be the normal anymore."

More information on the Effingham Social Justice Group can be found on its Facebook page. As of Saturday afternoon, 1,100 people had joined the social media group.

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at kaitlin.cordes@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.

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