Amid weeks of youth-led protesting since the death of a Minneapolis Black man at the hands of the police, some recent Black Madison high school graduates are hoping to focus on the power of their community’s money.
The group, “We Are One: The Young Panthers of Madison,” formed as a citywide Black Student Union earlier this school year. While the coronavirus pandemic slowed some of its momentum, West senior Noah Anderson said, a small group is getting back together to plan a rally focused on unity in the black community.
“We want (the community) to see we are all about peace and all about giving back to the community,” Anderson said earlier this month. “Start investing in ourselves.”
From noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Black-owned businesses, young people and community leaders will gather at Penn Park on Madison’s south side for “Unity and Awareness of the Black Dollar.” The event will feature food, live entertainment and a chance to connect with and learn about Black-owned businesses in Madison.
Anderson hopes it provides an example of long-term actions, mostly that black people need to support those Black-owned businesses. Nari X, another member of the group, said it’s time for Black people to understand the power of their money.
“It’s been time (for that), but this has put the icing on the cake and has woken up a lot of people,” she said. “There is going to be no stopping us.”
They’re getting some assistance from adults in the community, too, to help connect with businesses. Lorien Carter said helping the students work toward their goals is “amazing.”
“To see them plan this in effective ways, to do it in an effective manner; I’m in awe,” Carter said.
Three weeks ago, a group of eight sat around a table at the park talking about the event’s focus, what they needed and often diverting to deeper conversations about what it means to be Black right now, what white people who want to be allies should know and the desire for finding unity in the Black community through this time.
Last month, George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes while Floyd was in custody. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, while three other officers on the scene were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Rallies in Madison began May 30. The first three days and nights all had marches that began peacefully, with protesters chanting slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe,” which Floyd can be heard saying during the incident with police caught on cell phone camera footage.
Each of those nights also featured looting and damage to property on State Street and downtown, with tense confrontations with police officers dressed in riot gear and using tear gas and pepper spray.
Since those first three evenings, another three weeks went by with a greatly reduced police presence and no looting or damaging of businesses as protests shifted to focus on honoring Black people killed by police in recent years.
The tone shifted again Tuesday night following the arrest of an activist earlier in the day on the Capitol Square for entering Coopers Tavern with a megaphone and baseball bat that a friend said he’s carried around peacefully throughout the protests. In video of the arrest, multiple officers tackled the man and carried him to his car, sparking outrage from fellow activists.
A group tore down two statues on the Capitol grounds that night, broke some more windows and one person threw a Molotov cocktail into the City County Building. Police showed up in riot gear later in the night for the first time in weeks, though no tear gas was used.
The Young Panthers group wants to keep the focus on what they can do to make long-term changes, with specific solutions centered around unity and the spending power of Black people, Anderson wrote in a text message Thursday. He cited a Marcus Garvey quote, “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots,” to help explain the importance of learning Black history as a part of the movement.
“We took that into account so we educated ourselves, and came across a man by the name Vernon Johns, a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement,” Anderson wrote. “His tactics, in short, was only to support Black businesses, creating a cycle of generational wealth within our communities. We the Young Panthers of Madison believe that this is the way. Black people, we’ve got to understand our true power in this country.”
After that initial planning session earlier this month, X was hopeful the event would be a success.
“This can be big,” she said. After a short pause, she added, “No, this is going to be big. I’ve got to change my mindset.”
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