Joi Daniels is tired of worrying that her sons will be shot in the streets.
“My life is in constant fear for my sons,” said Daniels, a project manager at Comcast, spoken-word artist and mother of three boys and a girl. “They are honor students. They are athletes. But because of their skin, they are automatically judged. They’re a threat.”
High-profile shootings by law enforcement across the country in recent weeks have heightened awareness and criticism about the relationship between race and police violence.
The murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, both of which were captured on video, prompted Denver’s High School Democrats, in partnership with the NAACP, to organize a “Peace March” Saturday to protest what they view as abuse by police.
Daniels says that the video of Philando Castile, filmed and broadcast using Facebook Live by Castile’s girlfriend, changed the way she saw this issue. “I saw that [Castile] did everything I taught my sons to do, and he still got shot,” Daniels said. “I need to be involved.”
The march began late morning Saturday at City Park’s statue of Dr. Martin Luther King and continued down Colfax Avenue to the state Capitol building — about 30 blocks. On the way, the formidable crowd chanted verses from Civil Rights hymns like “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and “We Shall Overcome,” Kendrick Lamar’s anthemic “Alright” and Black Lives Matter chants.
Throughout their journey, marchers were met with supportive honking from passing cars, cheers from passersby and the occasional derisive “all lives matter” comment.
When they arrived at the Capitol building, several demonstrators spoke about how best to improve the status quo. Speakers included Daniels, attorney and Democratic member of the Colorado House Joe Salazar, political consultant Joyann Ruscha and event organizer Tai Williams.
Ruscha, a former history teacher, decried the ways that civil strife is portrayed in schools, and the ways Americans choose to tell their national story, which she views as revisionist. She called on attendees to examine their biases and actively pursue their vision of justice.
“There is no such state of being that exists that is called ‘not racist’. It doesn’t exist,” Ruscha said. “There is either racist or anti-racist. If you think you’re not racist, but you’re comfortable with the status quo, you are racist.”
“This is a rally about anti-racism,” she added.
In a rousing final speech, Historic Manual High School junior Auon’tai Anderson — who was also an event organizer and serves as chairman of the Colorado High School Democrats — announced his candidacy for the northeast Denver (District 4) seat of the school board. That’s right, he’s a high school junior running for school board. He termed his speech the “State of Peace Address.”
“I’m running because we have a broken education system,” Anderson said. “I have noticed that the incumbent, Rachele Espiritu, she’s a great leader, but she hasn’t been into our schools. We need somebody that’s in our schools, with our children, listening to the community and to the schools. I want to give our school district back to the community. I really think that’s key.”
Anderson has a message for non-black people who want to support the Black Lives Matter movement. “We need support. We need unity. We don’t want a Black Lives Matter movement with all the white people in the back. Show us that you’re here for us, show us that you care.”
Anderson does not equivocate about his intentions in the public sphere. “In a few years, there’s gonna be a new governor in Colorado, and his name is Tai Anderson, and we’re going to take the state forward. And after we take the state forward, we’re going to take the country forward.”
Photo credit: Allen Tian