This article was a collaborative effort between Cassie Conklin and Delanie Blubaugh.
Over 150 members of the community gathered together on the afternoon of Saturday, October 3, for a “She Matters: Safe Not Silent March” to remember the life of Breonna Taylor and to protest the lack of justice in her case. The event was organized by Allegany County’s NAACP Branch 7007.
The “she” in She Matters refers to “anyone who considers themselves a woman, and anyone who looks like me, has my skin tone or darker or lighter,” said Tifani Fisher, Vice President of the Allegany County NAACP chapter. “The shes that are discounted, overlooked, and receive no justice. Women who look like me are more at risk to be raped, to be murdered, to be the victim of police brutality. We could be murdered with no trace and no case. We are an endangered species.”
Attendees assembled at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Washington Street, where signs were passed around and shirts and pins were up for sale. The march began shortly after opening remarks were given by Ms. Fisher, NAACP President Carmen Jackson, FSU Assistant VP for Student Affairs Mrs. Robin Wynder, and Reverend Martha Macgill, Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal. Clory Jackson, founder of The Brownsville Project, and Fisher, among other Black female leaders, then led the group down Washington Street towards Cumberland City Hall.
The march itself was moderately slow-paced, and the group often stopped and stood completely still as onlookers listened to their chants. A powerful moment of the march, the crowd stood still for three entire minutes while chanting, “it could have been me. It could have been you.”
With a passion in her voice that was heard throughout the whole Downtown Cumberland area, Clory Jackson led the group in chants until they reached their destination at City Hall. Waiting for the group was a full setup of tables with apparel for sale, as well as voter registration booths that were staffed with volunteers from the NAACP and Women’s Action Coalition (WAC). Urging those in the crowd to utilize the resources provided to them, Fisher said, “Your vote counts. If you only march with us in the streets and don’t vote in November, then nothing changes.”
Carmen Jackson, President of the local NAACP Chapter said, “voter suppression is alive and well in Allegany County. People will ask me to put out a memo about where to vote and how to vote, but everytime I go to hit send, the rule book has changed.”
Also delivering remarks was Clory Jackson, daughter of Carmen and Lance Jackson and a descendent of the Brownsville and Park Avenue community who has been instrumental in telling the story of her ancestors who faced racial terror and eminent domain as the Frostburg State campus expanded. The community once stood where the Upper Quad is now located. During the event, Clory told the crowd, “To my Black and brown brothers and sisters, your history did not start with slavery and your history did not start with genocide. Before that, we were kings and queens and chiefs.” She continued, “Deconstruct the hierarchy. Unlearn every message you’ve ever learned about yourself. Let’s go back to our origin, where we were one people, where we were one humanity.”
Fred Chavis, a middle school science teacher from Hagerstown and Vice President of the Washington County NAACP, spoke after Clory. He and his wife, also an educator, have traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to protest the murder of Taylor. “Where is the justice when our Black women are murdered in the beds where they should feel safe?” he asked the crowd. “We cannot dare say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not protect our women and girls.”
Also invited to speak at the event was FSU student Angel Young, a young poet and podcast host, who delivered a powerful spoken word piece entitled, “I Envy.”
While fairly new to protesting, Young has always been interested in politics and human rights, and has been inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to work within her community, she later told TBL. “My future ambition is to situate myself into a position where I can enact and direct change within the Black community,” said Young, “if we are going to get ourselves into positions of power in which we can establish true changes, it starts with the building up of our communities.” Click here to read our profile on Angel Young.
The local NAACP chapter has been instrumental and successful in identifying new and emerging voices like FSU students Angel Young and Austin Gillens. However, Fisher told the crowd, “While I am here with the next generation, I do not want to pass the torch because I want this to end. I want us to stand and say ‘we did it.’”
Indeed, throughout the event, those who spoke expressed a hope that this march would be the last. In her closing to the crowd, Fisher mourned for Breonna Taylor and bemoaned the Kentucky Attorney General’s decision not to pursue murder charges against the police officers in the case saying that “the bullets that went into drywall mattered more than the bullets that riddled her body,” but that the event had inspired a reconciliation for her. “From now on, I want you to be authentically and unapologetically Black and Brown and who you are,” she resolved. “Today it ends.”