EFFINGHAM — Organizers of a rally scheduled for Saturday at the Effingham County Museum lawn aim to promote racial equality and inclusion.
Matthew Robinson, 19, is black and a 2018 Effingham High School graduate. He is a member of the Effingham Social Justice Group that formed on Facebook this week and now has nearly 1,000 members. He’ll be one of the speakers on Saturday.
“The whole point of this is to do it peacefully and in the right way,” Robinson said. “If we start acting out of anger or frustration, that will put a bad look on us.”
The group formed after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis beneath the knee of a police officer who has since been fired and charged with murder. Three other former Minneapolis police officers have also been criminally charged. Protests and demonstrations have rocked cities across the nation and the world.
Robinson, who has lived in Effingham since the sixth grade, said he has experienced subtle forms of racism that sometimes make him feel like an outsider.
“I hope after Saturday people who attend will take a look at their own selves and say, ‘Where am I at during all this? Where do I stand?’”
As he watches images of other protests that have grown violent, he feels confident that those who gather in Effingham will keep the peace.
“When people get angry, at times that’s just what they do,” he said. “They just react violently. But I do not condone that at all. That is giving a bad look on the people who are peacefully protesting, actually trying to make a change for the better. That’s what a lot of people tend to focus on – just the looting. Not the fact that there are a lot of people out there trying to do it the right way.”
Effingham Deputy Police Chief Kurt Davis said the department met with one of the organizers this week, and authorities are confident that the rally is being properly planned.
“We’re looking for the safety of everyone,” Davis said of the police presence that will watch over the rally. “Obviously, they have a First Amendment right and we encourage that. We’re just going to be there for the safety of everyone involved, including the everyday residents of Effingham who are just trying to go through town and do their business.”
Robinson said police in this area are not the target of the rally. He has not experienced problems that people of color have experienced elsewhere with police.
“We do not need to target the police in our county at all,” Robinson said. “We can speak on the topic of police brutality in other places. But here we don’t need to target our police departments because we don’t deal with that here as a community. We want to make sure the police department is on our side and willing to have our back, say, if there are outside people trying to stir up trouble, chaos.”
“They informed us it wasn’t anything directed at the police department, it’s an educational thing,” said Davis. “They’re highly encouraging people for positive type signs, not negative type signs. No anti-police stuff. Obviously, we have concerns – whether that be counter-protesters or whatever. Our concerns are more there than they are with the ones who are putting this together.”
Christa Kabbes, 24, who grew up in Effingham, started the Facebook group and is encouraged by how quickly it has grown.
“I really do think the Black Lives Matter movement is about peace and justice,” she said. “And just showing the world that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter, too. It’s not saying only black lives matter. I think a lot of the rioting and looting and fires – I don’t think that at all is what the Black Lives Matter movement is about.”
Organizers ask that people who attend wear face coverings because of COVID-19.
“Putting law enforcement aside, we recognize that black people are frequently treated differently because of the color of their skin,” the group said in a statement announcing the rally. “As we gather on Saturday, we ask everyone to reflect on how we react to our neighbors based on how they look or their accent or their country of origin. How do we talk about them in front of our families and friends? We learn our attitudes toward others from infancy. The actions and words of our parents, siblings, coaches and teachers inform how we view people who look or sound different from us.
“We hope that by encouraging this kind of reflection, we can foster a more inclusive and vibrant community.”
Schedule of events:
Noon — Sign-making stations
1 p.m. — Opening remarks by Natalee Swafford
1:05 p.m. — Music by Anna Habing
1:15 p.m. — Speech by Matthew Robinson
1:20 p.m. — Music and demonstrating with signs
1:30 p.m. — March through downtown
1:45 p.m. — 9 minutes of reflection
1:55 p.m. — Taylor Steele sings “Amazing Grace”
2 p.m. — Meet and Greet