“It takes my breath away”

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2019

Opelika remembers George Floyd

By Michelle Key
Publisher

The nation could learn lessons from the people of Opelika on what it means to peacefully protest. While riots are breaking out in cities across this land following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last week, more than 200 people gathered at the courthouse square in downtown Opelika Saturday afternoon to participate in a peaceful protest. Organizer, Jecorey Purifoy kicked off the event by leading the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer. Following the prayer, the group started marching around the square holding signs, chanting and repeating the names of both men and women that have been killed. When asked, Purifoy said that he felt called to organize the event. 

“I was tired of feeling helpless in seeing my black brothers and sisters being murdered. I just wanted to do something, anything, to support [them] make [others] aware that this is no longer acceptable and [that] their pain is our pain,” he said. “My goal was to get others to understand how we feel, and to get them to join in and support and stand with us against racism.”

For one hour, the group, that continued to grow as people arrived, continued to march around the square. Several passing vehicles blew their horns as a sign of support. City of Opelika Councilwoman Tiffany Gibson-Pitts spoke on camera at the end of the event saying, “I think it is very important for people in our community to actually start events like this. The diversity here was beautiful. We have whites, latinos, black Americans, everyone was here. This is how you handle a peaceful protest. We came in peace, remained in peace and are leaving in peace. I am very, very proud.” 

Community members that came out to show their love and support had the following to say:

“The issues are obviously still extremely salient in our country. I did not even realize how much it had impacted me until the first few laps. It was everything I could do to hold back my tears,” said Opelika resident Carter DeShazo. “Saying the names, saying ‘I can’t breathe’, and imagining what my existence might be like if I did not have the benefit of pale skin. I just really wanted to be here to show support and solidarity.”

“I am out here today because seeing the footage of George Floyd being handcuffed, down on the ground with the police officer kneeling down on his neck, broke me. It really broke my heart in two. I am ready for a sense of justice. I am ready for African Americans to feel that they are safe in our own country, said event attendee Sharantasha Lourns. “But, today I have a sense of peace. To be out here, today among a diverse group of people, now that opens my heart and makes me smile. We cannot get the justice we need if we do not unite as a community. Everybody has to see that injustice to one really does mean injustice for all. If we want a better future, now is the time to unite.”

The demonstration concluded the same as it started, with Purifoy leading the crowd in the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards, Purifoy said that he felt like the message that he wanted to convey was received. “I am George Floyd. The violence against black men in America absolutely takes my breath away and as long as I have breath in my body I will stand for what’s right until justice is served. Know justice, know peace,” Purifoy said.

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