The Black community was still reeling from the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, when another blow was dealt after video surfaced of police officers killing George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., in May. Three officers sat on Floyd, 46, one officer with his knee on his neck, for almost nine minutes while he was handcuffed and lying on his stomach, begging for breath and life.
It was a horrific and traumatizing experience, one that left Michael Taylor, a senior theater major at Jackson State University, confused after he watched it. He couldn’t comprehend why the cops handled the situation in such a way, he said.
“It just made me angry and it frustrated me,” Taylor, 21, told the Mississippi Free Press. “When it first happened, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew I wanted to do something, so it took me a few months to put everything together,” Taylor said.
When Taylor returned to Chicago, his hometown, he monitored the protests in his city and beyond. While at a protest in downtown Chicago, he watched people vent their frustrations all around him.
“There were a lot of different riots and looting and stuff. It was a lot of that going on especially right when it first happened. Downtown Chicago had pretty much been looted,” the senior, theater major said.
Seeing all the chaos erupting in his city, Taylor said he realized that peace was the one component missing from the protests. It moved him to plan his own protest, one where he could show that he and peers of his age group could act civil in the midst of so much unrest while still demanding systemic change, he said.
He did the planning and organizing himself with some assistance from his mentor, Chris Crater, who helped him find a police escort for the protest. He also promoted the march on social media with Chicago Media Takeout, who posted about the protest on their platforms.
“I definitely just wanted to make sure that the people working with me had the vision, knowing that we weren’t going to be causing commotion or doing anything violent because that’s what we were protesting against,” Taylor said.
Michael attends one of many HBCUs that have been taking a stand and letting their voice be heard. Earlier this month, Tougaloo College and Alcorn State University started an online protest against their administrations over their reopening plans and tuition increases in the midst of COVID-19. JSU is using a hybrid model this fall and is open for classes this fall, but delayed its football season and other fall sports to spring 2021, along with other Southwestern Athletic Conference teams.
Taylor said he wasn’t sure what to expect or how many people would turn up on protest day, June 12, but he stayed positive. “One thing I did know was that regardless of whoever came, I was still going to do the same thing,” he said.
Forty to 50 people showed up to the protest, including students from Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Grambling State University who live in Chicago. They marched from 87th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue to Jesse Owens Park on Stony Island Avenue and 87th Street and Jeffrey Boulevard before marching back to the starting point, he said.
“A lot of the people who came to the protest I didn’t know. They came just off the strength that they heard about it,” Taylor said. “After that, I just got connected with everyone who was there. The people who were there that didn’t know me came up to me after the march, and we had certain conversations, exchanged numbers.”
The networking helped him make connections with other people who had organizations, which led to an opportunity for him to promote other marches happening around that time, he said. Taylor said he wants to continue organizing and has learned a lot from the experience.
“As far as leading a protest, you have to know what you’re protesting for, you have to be able to answer questions, you have to be ready to be a voice of that group,” he said.
“As a leader, you have to be ready to answer questions and talk about the things we’re protesting for. You have to know those things because if you don’t, people won’t take you seriously,” Taylor added.
Though that does put a bit of pressure on him, Taylor says the protest was nothing he couldn’t handle. In leading this protest, he has learned to speak professionally in front of an audience, and he has discovered his voice, he said.
“I think I learned that I have a voice, and not all my peers are on the same type of stuff,” he said. “There’s still people out here doing positive things, and I feel like it’s easier for people to look at the news with being so young and having a better vision and having an understanding with what it was I was trying to accomplish with the march.”