Faces of the Protest: Participants Talk About Why They Came

While LkldNow’s live-stream camera was pointed toward the speakers and musicians on the stage at Sunday’s racial justice protest in Munn Park, reporter Sara Drumm talked with some of the people in the crowd about why they came and what they hoped the protest would accomplish. Read their stories:

Zenapha Milton, left, and his wife, Laura Milton, hold signs at Munn Park. Zenapha Milton said his personal experience in Lakeland has been very good, but he still wants to see more accountability and he wants people to be more aware of racism. “I think people need to speak up and stop being silent, like I’ve been my whole life,” Zenapha Milton said. “I think people are realizing we haven’t come as far as we think we have.” Even though people say change starts at the top, he thinks people need to start with having conversations, and not let them stop. For his part, he has been talking with his friends and trying to explain to them that he believes all lives matter, but he wants black lives to matter just as much as white lives.

Kayla Wilmot carries a sign for her daughter, Isbell. Wilmot wants to raise awareness of zero-tolerance policies at schools that can lead to students ending up in the “school-to-prison pipeline.” She wants less harsh policies in schools as her daughter grows up. Kayla’s twin sister is Kiera Wilmot, who was arrested and expelled when her science project exploded at Bartow High School in 2013. The two felony charges she faced were later dropped and she was allowed to return to school, but the experience had a heavy impact.

Steve Loher, left, and Marcie Loher attended the protest to show their disgust with racism. “We don’t like what’s happening, and it’s got to change,” Marcie Loher said. Steve Loher added he wants to see institutional change, starting with policing methods.

From left: Tonya Christian, Arthur White, Zipporah Alexander, Megan Hearn, and Stephanie White came from Lake Wales to attend the protest.

Stephanie White said she has not experienced violence but has been spoken down to throughout her life. People have made comments that she is “pretty for a black girl” or are surprised she is smart. Older white people in stores look at her “like why are you even here?” she said, and these types of encounters tear at her confidence. Her sign says she refuses to be afraid to seem angry anymore. “There’s a stigma that all black people are angry. Well, why do you think that is?” she said.

Arthur White recalled some of his experiences with racism. One of his first experiences of blatant racism was at age 13. He and some friends were playing basketball in front of their house when a group of grown men driving by called them hateful names and told them to get out of the street. Another time, police treated him with suspicion when investigating broken windows in a residence near his. He also spoke about a time he was pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign, which turned into a two-hour ordeal including an officer yelling at him to put his hands up and searching his car. Now a middle school teacher working in Frostproof, Arthur White talks with his students about racism to help them understand what it is and that they don’t need to act the same way they see others acting.

Tasha Williams, left, and Rainbow Williams came from Winter Haven to protest. Rainbow Williams said she was motivated because injustice still happens around here, even if people don’t realize it.

Maggie Leach, left, and Ellie Leach attended to protest a lack of justice. “Leaders are not valuing black lives, and that needs to change,” Ellie Leach said.

Chanique Davis, a local artist and elementary school teacher, holds a painting she made to bring attention to racism and food deserts.

Hilario Barajas holds a sign to show the support of the Young American Dreamers, a community service and political action group based in Auburndale.

Lisa Malloy, left, and Samantha Hayes sit among their chalk messages. They used to chalk to write and draw images of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both of whom were killed by police in recent months. They brought a bag full of chalk so children and others could join in the drawing. The two women live in Temple Terrace and have been attending protests in nearby cities. Hayes said they wanted to give people a way to make a mark, and they wanted to bring smiles to people’s faces.