By Katharine DeRosa
Briar Woods High School alumni Kelvin Brewington and Robert Marshal organized a Black Lives Matter protest in Ashburn on Saturday. The march began at National Recreation & Park Association in Brambleton and proceeded to the Broadlands Village center for a few speeches before returning to the park.
“People in Ashburn don’t think this can happen,” Brewington said.
Brewington said he and Marshal were motivated to organize the march because of the racial issues they experienced at Briar Woods High School.
The march drew locals and caught the attention of people in the streets. Cars honked as they drove by and some opened their windows to put their fists in the air. Honks were met with cheering and chants of “Black Lives Matter.”
Angela Marsh, of Ashburn, attended the protest with her daughter, her husband and their dog.
“I would like for everyone to do a self-awareness check,” Marsh said when talking about understanding racism in the police force.
Chants shouted by the protesters throughout the march included call and response chants such as, “Say their names,” followed by “Which one?”—a variation on chants in which marchers respond with “George Floyd,” “Breonna Taylor” or other victims of police violence.
Malcolm Blacken, a father from Ashburn, said he attended the march because he wanted to improve his community and prevent injustice.
“I have biracial children. I want them to grow up in a society where they don’t feel like they have to look over their shoulders,” Blacken said.
Peter Nwachukwu, a graduate of Briar Woods High School, gave a speech at the beginning of the protest in which he described the time he and father went to buy a gun.
“Everyone stared at us,” Nwachukwu said.
Nwachukwu said that he is hoping for police reform, such as defunding the police.
“That doesn’t mean elimination of the police. That means allocating a portion of the budget spent on police on other things,” Nwachukwu said.
The phrase “defund the police” has become more common among protesters in the past week and there’s a large debate about what that means. Some agree with Nwachukwu’s ideas, while others want to see the police abolished.
“It would be wrong of me to sit at home and to do nothing,” Nwachukwu said. “Everybody signs the petitions, posts on their social media, but that’s just virtue signaling. You need to get out here and try to do something.”
Nwachukwu also said he feels like the protests have helped combine action with virtue signaling.
“People are backing up what they say, and I feel like people are more in tune with what’s happening,” Nwachkwu said.
The protest turned around at the Broadlands Village Center, where protesters kneeled and listened to speeches, including one by Peter Smith, a black man originally from Jamaica.
“When you hear all men are created equal, that’s true. But all men are not treated equal, and we have to recognize that,” Smith said, followed by loud applause.
Katharine DeRosa is a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University double majoring in economics and mass communications. She writes for VCU’s newspaper, The Commonwealth Times, during the academic year.