‘It starts with us’: Young organizers lead 1,000-plus crowd at Fort Mill SC protest

‘It starts with us’: Young organizers lead 1,000-plus crowd at Fort Mill SC protest
‘It starts with us’: Young organizers lead 1,000-plus crowd at Fort Mill SC protest (Source: Rock Hill Herald)

FORT MILL, S.C. (Rock Hill Herald) - Kay Apperson stood under a tree Thursday, with her six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter in Walter Elisha Park, guzzling water. They had just started marching with more than 1,000 protestors along S.C. 160 in Fort Mill to condemn police brutality.

Apperson is white. And her kids are black. Her son held a sign that read, “When do I go from cute to dangerous?”

“Yesterday, we were getting in the car,” she said. “Of course, it was 90-something degrees out and my car is all black. We get in. It’s very hot. And my son said that he can’t breathe.”

Her eyes turned red and she started to cry.

George Floyd, an African American man, died last week after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in an incident captured on video.

In the video, Floyd is heard screaming, “I can’t breathe.”

Apperson looked at her son as tears rolled down her cheeks. She choked on her words.

“Obviously, this time it was a hot car,” she said. “Next time, it could be something else.”

Marchers in Fort Mill traveled along S.C. 160 on sidewalks to the Kinglsey business and residential development that sits just east of Interstate 77 and back, in protest of Floyd’s killing and racial injustice. Walkers sweated as they held up signs and chanted on their mile-plus journey Thursday afternoon.

Marquise Morris, Henry Herrera and Montavious Sauls, the march’s organizers who all went to Nation Ford High School, are all younger than 23.

“I felt as if it’s my turn, it’s our turn as a generation to be like, ‘Hey, we can do something here,’” said Morris, who is 22. “I saw it done in Rock Hill peacefully. I keep harping on that because it’s not like we’re Charlotte. We’re a small town.

“We can literally come together and change as one.”

FORT MILL PROTEST LED BY YOUTH

Before the rally, Herrera stood before a huge crowd and spoke through a megaphone.

“Who here has ever witnessed or experienced racism in Fort Mill, South Carolina?” Herrera, who is 22, asked.

Many in the diverse crowd of people raised their hands. Most of the protesters who were present live in Fort Mill, one of the fastest growing areas in the country. And the community was on display Thursday: There were families and individuals, high schoolers and college students. People of all races.

The march organizers said they were pleasantly surprised at how far their message carried, and they said their generation is ready to help carry the mantle in the fight for racial justice.

“It starts with us,” said Herrera, who said his family is from the Dominican Republic. “We have to be the change we’d like to see.”

Four years ago, Herrara said, he marched in a protest in Charlotte after Keith Lamont Scott was killed by police. He said he didn’t ever want to have to do it again.

“I did it because it had to be done, and our voices needed to be heard,” he said. “This started between us because we know the young generation listens to the young generation.”

Sauls, the third organizer who is 21, said the goal of the march was to emphasize unity.

“Being peaceful, I think this will bring out the joy of being together,” Sauls said. “And I feel like that’s going to make people realize that we’re actually out here trying to do something.”

WALKING FOR RACIAL JUSTICE

After opening remarks from the march’s organizers, the crowd began to walk on sidewalks from the park down S.C. 160.

One stop along the traveler’s journey was a tent that belonged to Fort Mill Baptist Church. Three people, two of whom are pastors, passed out water to protesters on the hot summer day.

“I was a teenager in the 70s, and we always had a cause,” said Johnny Caruso, who is 64.

Caruso, who is white, said he has eight grandchildren, seven of whom are black. He said his whole extended family would have been out here protesting if they lived in the area, and that when he initially got word of the march, he sprung into action.

“I ran to BJs real quick, bought 10 cases of water, iced them down and we came up here,” Caruso said.

Ken Terry, who also is a pastor, joined Caruso in handing out water bottles.

“There’s a lot going on in our world, brother,” he said. “A lot going on in our world. And these people are just standing up for social injustices.”

The crowd continued marching. Although the crowd didn’t spill into the road, police helped direct traffic at an intersection leading in to Kingsley.

“Why (wouldn’t) we be out here?” said marcher Seyoung Kang, who is 21. “We have to be out here.”

‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’

Kira Ogwal, 21, brought her mom and 15-year-old brother to the march. The 1,000-plus group had already started walking toward Kingsley, so Kira Ogwal and her family jogged after them.

“I’m excited that I am actually able to make a difference, and be heard and be seen,” she said. She held a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

“I feel like I am able to change something,” Kira Ogwal, who is black, continued.

As the family walked, cars honked in support. Someone from a car shouted, “No justice.” Kira Ogwal’s mom, Shaunelle Ogwal, shouted back — “No peace,” and she smiled.

Kira Ogwal said she saw a flier for the protest online and encouraged her family to go. But it wasn’t a difficult decision to participate, Shaunelle Ogwal said.

“For us, it wasn’t a gray area because this is our lives,” she said. “We’re just grateful that we have a community that is coming out together because voices need to be heard and it can’t just be the black voice. We need all voices.”

Shaunelle Ogwal said she came out to march for her kids.

“It’s their future,” she said. “It’s for them and their kids. My parents — they are still living — but we’re still suffering from those struggles of our ancestors.

“The importance of them being out here is to say, ‘You know what, I took a stand.’ It’s for a better day for them when they don’t have to walk in fear.”