'We've got to do this together.' Calls for unity at sit-in against racism

Carol Thompson
Lansing State Journal
People begin to gather at the Capitol for a rally against racism Saturday, June 27, 2020. By 1 p.m., the crowd had swelled to around 300 people. The event featured several speakers, dancers and poetry.

LANSING — The message from speakers on the Capitol steps was clear: The fight against racism requires everyone to work together.

That means educating yourself, family and community about the "staggering" inequities caused by racism and then fighting to fix the problem, One Love Global community organizer Shanell Henry said from the podium.

"If you believe that Black lives matter, whatever tables you sit at, whether it's political, ministry, education, hospital, grocery stores, neighborhoods, nip (white supremacy) in the bud at an instant," she said. 

Henry was among the first to address a crowd of about 300 people gathered Saturday on the Capitol lawn for a sit-in against racism.

The sit-in was organized by Grand Ledge resident Tamilikia Foster. It featured speakers who called for equity and a dismantling of racism in America, along with performances by dancers, poets and choirs.

Many of those gathered wore white to symbolize "the souls that passed in peace," Foster said. Others wore yellow, symbolizing a call for a brighter future.

Foster, a registered nurse, said God inspired her to host the demonstration. 

"Today was a spiritual awakening," she said afterward. "It was a moment of peace and clarity. Out of everything that's going on in the world, we just needed a moment to pause."

Dancers of WWW/AMD perform at the Capitol as part of the Silent Sit-in Against Racism rally Saturday, June 27, 2020.

Message of peace, unity and equity

Foster and many of the speakers who joined her shared a message of unity.

They called for white Americans to join Black Americans and others in the movement for racial justice and to fix the systems that disproportionately hurt people of color, like policing and criminal justice.

The world has to change, Foster said. 

"We can't come to the table without you, and you can't come to the table without us," she said. "We've got to do this together."

A man with two children holds a sign at the Silent Sit-in Against Racism rally at the Capitol Saturday, June 27, 2020.

That was the message that struck Ann Arbor resident Jordan Newland.

Newland, 22, has traveled around Michigan to be part of the demonstrations that have occurred since the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minneapolis police officers in May.

He pointed to a message about victory versus peace shared by speaker Dan Ross, a 2019 Lansing City Council candidate, who spoke during the Saturday event.

Consider two ways to make a hand signal symbolizing peace, Newland explained: one with two fingers separated into a "V" and one with fingers together. 

"With victory, there's someone else coming out on the losing side," Newland said. "If you go for peace, we stop fighting altogether and we make the progress that we need. That really struck me."

Taylor Berry, 26, of Kalamazoo, said she hopes demonstrations like the sit-in to lead to more, genuine diversity in government and positions of power.

Berry drove from her home in Kalamazoo to the Lansing event because she developed her identity as a biracial woman while attending Michigan State University, she said. 

People get ready to participate in the Silent Sit-in Against Racism rally at the Capitol Saturday, June 27, 2020. About 300 people attended the event that included speakers, dancers, and poetry.

Unity means 'I can be who I was born to be'

To Foster, building unity toward racial equity means she will be able to walk down the sidewalk without being harassed or judged because of her skin color. It means she won't be discriminated against at work for wearing her hair in a natural style.

"I can be who I was meant to be, who I was born to be," she said.

Foster said she wants to build a better world for her children and grandchildren.

"I need the future to be different for mine and yours," she said. "Not just black, white, but everybody. Transgender, Native American, everybody needs to be represented in this world because we're in this together."

Afternoon protesters say transgender Black lives matter

Greg Maloy reads the names of transgender Black women and men who have been killed by violence. Maloy and Kenyah Cooks, both of Lansing, led demonstrators on a march from the Capitol to East Lansing on June 27, 2020.

The sit-in was followed by an afternoon protest, also at the Capitol, where people gathered to support transgender Black people before marching down Michigan Avenue to East Lansing.

Black transgender women who are killed because of their race and gender identity don't get the same recognition as other Black people who die by racist violence, organizer Greg Maloy said to a crowd seated on the Capitol steps.

Maloy and Kenyah Cooks, both of Lansing, organized the Saturday event to elevate the voices of Black transgender people and show respect for them.

"We are going to make our voices heard today," Maloy said as he started marching.

About 35 people supporting LGBTQ rights march from the Capitol to East Lansing chanting "Black Lives Matter" and "Trans Lives Matter" and other protest slogans Saturday, June 27, 2020.

Contact Carol Thompson at ckthompson@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @thompsoncarolk.