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Protesters march down the street in Lincoln, Ne
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Together for Change: When a Festival Becomes a Rally

June 14, 2020

“Today, we stand hand-in-hand, black, white, Mexican, Indian, and everything in-between, together for change,” he said, before handing the mic off. Just minutes before thousands were set to march from the state capitol building in Lincoln, down the Centennial Mall toward the Nebraska State Historical Society building and back, Kieron Williams took a moment.

A man in red shorts, a black t-shirt, and a black hat walked up to him, and Williams embraced him.

It was a powerful moment. It lingered. Not the usual dap, and not the familiar hug. There weren’t any pandemic worries on the mind. This was something else. As I stood there and watched, I saw pain, saw frustration, and saw hope.

“That was my fraternity brother,” Williams said. “When we hugged, that was like, bro, there’s thousands of people out here right now. This is what we wanted. That was the culmination of seeing the blessing through.”

Saturday morning, Kieron Williams led the NOT ONE MORE LIFE. March, an event months in the making. He had been laying the groundwork for his company, Fake Inc., to host a festival in Lincoln. It’d be called the “Heart of America” festival and 10% of its proceeds would go toward kids for schooling. He’d need vendors to supply food and drinks and merchandise for the event, he’d need to work with the city of Lincoln for a hosting ground, and the Lincoln Police Department to make sure roads were blocked off and people were taken care of.

When George Floyd was killed in Minnesota on May 25, the idea for a festival became the need for a rally.

“It was really just the culmination of going to protests two Sundays ago and seeing people be hurt by police, seeing people throw stuff at police and then the police react and seeing all the division and the chaos,” he said. “Just being a Christ-follower, I know what the answer is. I know the answer isn’t hate, I know the answer isn’t fear. I know the answer is love and unison.

“I just wanted to figure out how can I do my best to make sure anything I lead, that’s the message?”

Former Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch was a keynote speaker around 10 a.m. before the crowd began its march. “He’s like a big brother to me, he’s been there since I graduated, just someone I can lean on, somebody I can always ask for advice whether it’s business or football,” Williams said. Crouch was all in the instant Williams asked. “It’s a blessing to have someone like that in my corner.” There were other former Huskers there, too, a member of the athletic department’s player support staff, and one member of university leadership.

From K Street to P, when Williams shouted “No Justice,” the group behind him responded “No Peace.” From there to the foot of the Historical Society building, Williams shared why they gathered.

“Say his name!”

George Floyd!

“Say her name!”

Breonna Taylor!

“Say his name!”

James Scurlock!

Midway through the walk back to the capitol building, Williams stopped, his voice growing a little raspy, while the chants from the group raged on. He raised a fist and just listened.

Williams worked with the LPD to make sure such a march would even be possible, and to make sure they knew what he stood for. No photo-ops with police officers, just mutual respect. Williams, along with so many others, wants the police force in this country policed. Accountability and transparency that can’t turned off with the flip of a camera switch. He wants real reform, not to burn the system down.

“I kind of just told everybody that we’re all in this together,” he said. “Like, yeah, there are police who hurt people, and there are bad people out there, there’s a lot of bad people out there, but what we need to do is we need to change the whole system. If we don’t change the system, all we’re doing is burning calories. We’re not really doing anything. We have to get to the root of the problem.”

On the way back to the capitol, the “No Justice, No Peace” rallying cry you’ll hear everywhere became a call for “Justice and Peace.”

They marched through downtown Lincoln intersections Saturday morning unabated. Officers angled their cruisers so as to block through traffic. People waited. Red light from the street lamps overhead could not stop the crowd.

The movement isn’t stopping. Maybe it has the fuel to be the biggest civil rights push of a lifetime. A week ago, Tony Butler and Jerald Foster talked about the intersection between athletics and activism and Foster—who was there Saturday morning with his brother, Trey—said this will only continue to grow. Juneteenth is getting widespread recognition. People en masse are starting to question a whitewashed education system. The NCAA just this week designated Nov. 3 as an off day, giving student-athletes a reprieve from practice and competition and the ability to go vote in the national election. It’s not yet a national holiday.

Players in the NBA are questioning whether a return to basketball would muddy the message. People like Kyrie Irving and Dwight Howard are being vilified by a public that just wants a return to comfort. But, as Howard said in a statement shared by CNN’s Jill Martin, “basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction.”

Things are changing. This is only the start.

“I feel something’s coming,” Crouch told the crowd Saturday. “If you can’t feel something’s coming, then you’re looking the wrong way.”

“We need policy change,” Williams said later. “I think we need to get in these offices with the mayor, offices with the governor, offices with our representatives and our senators. We need to get in those offices so we can say, ‘Hey, this is what we want on the ballot this year. It is not an option. … If you don’t listen to me, then we will continue to protest, we will continue to not shop places, we will continue to walk the streets until you change it. Obviously you guys can’t police yourselves. So, as a people, we need to put a system in place that polices that system.’”

Saturday was entirely peaceful. About uniting people to demand change to a system that divides. Scanning the faces and the signs, you could see pain. You could see frustration. You could see hope. It was quite a moment.

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