By: Terry Harris
Posted: June 11, 2020 | 3:02 p.m.
Despite advance rumors to the contrary, Friday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Surry was peaceful from beginning to end. Both planned and impromptu speeches were received with enthusiastic applause from an estimated crowd of 300 locals of all ages and ethnicities, but there was neither shouting nor arguing for the duration of the event. That’s the way the local teens who organized the event planned it, explained Sam Anderson-Shepard, the 18 year-old newly-elected Surry Town Councilman who was one of the eight organizers. But he admitted that he was surprised at the size of the crowd.
“We were expecting about 25 people, and hoping for 50,” said Anderson-Shepard. “It was a lot bigger than we were expecting.”
As the young organizers stood and spoke in front of the courthouse, many echoed sentiments on the handmade posters they carried like “Black Lives Matter” and “We don’t expect special treatment, just equal treatment” and “Your Pain is Our Pain” and “I stand with you.” They several times urged the crowd to “Use your voice” and “Vote!”
A number of local adult leaders including several teachers from Surry County Schools as well as Pastors Charles Cypress, Daniel Baltimore, and Anthony Washington Sr. also came forward and spoke in support of their effort as did Thaddeus Lane, head of the Surry County branch of the NAACP.
Finally, they invited everyone to kneel for a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd, whose death on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked protests all over the country.
From the beginning to the end of the hour-long event, voices were only raised during chants of “I can’t breathe”, “No justice no peace” and “Black Lives Matter” as the protesters made an orderly march from the Surry Government Building to the Old Surry Courthouse and back.
“I don’t think it could have gone any better,” said Anderson-Shepard afterward. “It was completely smooth. Everyone was peaceful, but we were loud and got our point across.”
Asked what prompted him to join with friends to organize the protest, he said, “We’ve talked about this stuff before with Treyvon Martin, but we were a lot younger then. George Floyd’s death sparked really wanting a change, and we thought if we really wanted a change we could make that change. So we decided to organize this. What we were protesting is racial injustice and police brutality, and we wanted to show that we can really come together as a community to show that even the small country towns are opposed to racism.”
T. J. Newby, another of the young local organizers said, “We’re not a ‘group’ – we’re friends who wanted to make a difference. So we got together and decided we wanted to do something to make a change.”
“It’s bigger than me, it’s bigger than Surry it’s bigger than the United States,” added the teen, who will be graduating from Surry County High School this week. “If we make a difference, we can influence other counties to make a difference also, and that can continue to grow.
Both Anderson-Shepard and Newby expressed gratitude for the assistance of Surry County Sheriff Carlos Turner and his deputies who marched and stood with them.
Sheriff Turner pronounced himself very appreciative of the friendly nature and peaceful assembly by the group, and added, “The youth who organized Surry County’s peaceful protest made my heart happy! At the end of the day I can take off my sheriff’s uniform, but I can’t take off my race. The task these young people had who organized this peaceful protest was to change the way people think about racial injustice and to bring about solidarity. It will take all of us in the community to bring about this change. Not the heroes, not the celebrities and not the professional athletes. It will be people just like those yesterday and others to stand strong against police brutality and racism in all its forms.”