In her warm, quiet voice, LaToshia Everson defines herself as “an educator in all phases of my life.” Everson is our neighbor to the south. She grew up in Greencastle where, as an African American girl, she was educated mostly among white children. These days she is Associate Director of Student Engagement at De Pauw University, her alma mater. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in communication. Her talents in the financial field landed her a first job at Wabash College where she worked for several years. Additionally, Everson is a key member of the Greencastle NAACP and a co-pastor (and founder) with her husband, Joel, of Harvest House Church in Coatesville.
For those of us in the rural Midwest who may have formed opinions of Black Lives Matter based on chaotic scenes and unverified descriptions of events happening far away, Everson already breaks a stereotype as a spokesperson for BLM.
In late May, the killing of George Floyd was globally seen. As we know, this filmed atrocity prompted demonstrations and marches by millions of people all over the world, calling for racial justice. The depth and breadth of the response speaks certainly to the depth and breadth of the need that prompted such an outcry.
Here in 2020, in the time of pandemic, many people realized, or were newly made aware, that they have a lot to learn about this long-lived fracture in our society. In great numbers, people began to read about the history of racism in our country and then to speak out. They begin to listen to those who know more about the situation than they do.
Black Lives Matter is an organization that was founded in 2013 by three women after Treyvon Martin was killed in Florida. The goal of the organization is to eradicate white supremacy and thereby create a more equal society. BLM believe that we must have social change to have real change, and that cannot come until people understand that all humanity deserves to be recognized and have equality under the law.
The heart of BLM is to practice “non-violent civil disobedience” in order to be seen — just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did, continually reminding everyone that collective liberation benefits humanity. The killing of Floyd brought international attention over night to the organization Black Lives Matter, and turned it into a movement. The movement has produced and is producing pressure on governments at all levels to work toward greater equality among citizens. This activity continues around the globe.
As Everson describes, “Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations are for the purpose of lamenting, venting, and learning about policy so more people can understand.” Even here in Crawfordsville and Greencastle, we ask, “How can we end injustice? How can we learn?” As local demonstrations and gatherings throughout the summer and autumn at Pike Place have demonstrated, telling stories matter. We need to listen to others with different experiences than ourselves. Everson said, “Stories change things. Stories can start movements.” To be part of a movement is to act on things you see happening around you that you cannot deny and which you wish to change for the good of the community, for the good of humanity as a whole.
When the Black Lives Matter organization says, “We have to stop murdering and incarcerating black lives at disproportionate rates,” the now global organization is simply asking for fairness and equity, not for control nor special favors.
When our Constitution says, “All men are created equal” that matters. It means all lives matter — all women’s and men’s and children’s lives matter. All humanity deserves to be liberated from over-policing and to have the chance to thrive by having equal access to quality education, jobs, healthcare and wealth transfer.
Across our history of 400 years since the first slaves were brought onto U.S. shores, many of the simple human rights Americans fought for, believe in, count on, and pledge allegiance to, have too often been denied to people of color. These practices have been the results of public policies, formal or informal, and lasting for decades, generations, and sometimes centuries.
When people act together for collective liberation, systemic change is the goal. All struggles are connected. Economic, political and social systems that create harm to some are connected. Society as a whole (as well as the individual) suffers when all this talent and work potential is suppressed and oppressed. The mission of BLM is not to cause division, it is the reverse.
A person needn’t protest to help forward this cause aimed at improving all our communities. You can give money, call local officials, educate yourself in anti-racism and hear the stories of people who are different than you. Then make yourself heard. Keep applying pressure. Hearts and minds can change, but, most importantly, policy must change.
As Everson notes, “This is a movement and it’s beautiful and it’s widespread.” It is not like all the disinformation, much of which has been consciously applied. All Black Lives Matter protests have strict rules. They have start and end times. They require masks and social distancing. “The disinformation must be battled. This is not an extreme group.”
In our community, both the mayor’s office and the police and sheriff’s departments have been actively engaged in conversation about these issues. It is important to know that you can support fair local policing and Black Lives Matter at the same time. Both are to protect and better our community.
The League of Women Voters advocates against systemic racism. In Motion #2020-136, passed at the national convention on June 27, 2020, the LWV calls “for prompt actions by all League members to advocate within every level of government to eradicate systemic racism and the harm that it causes.”
Everson’s full presentation, delivered as the November Virtual Lunch with the League of Montgomery County, may be found on the LWVMC YouTube channel, on our Facebook page, and on our webpage.