Friday, September 30, 2022

This W&M student has been leading protests every Saturday for six months. Here’s how she’s doing it

Felecia Hayes has been leading protests for Black Lives Matter at Confusion Corner for six months now. (WYDaily/Gabrielle Rente)

Most people spend their Saturdays sleeping in or relaxing from a long work week.

William & Mary senior Felecia Hayes has different plans.

Every Saturday, she and dozens of other W&M students line the sidewalks of Confusion Corner, the colloquial name for the intersection of Jamestown and Richmond roads, holding up signs protesting police brutality and racism.

And while many of the protests around the country have dwindled, Hayes has been protesting for what will be 24 consecutive weeks this coming Saturday.

She’s been protesting consistently for six months.

It all started shortly after George Floyd’s death back in May. Hayes said she made the decision several days later to do something.

“I said I can’t sit back and watch anymore to see what’s occurring in our country. We need to educate ourselves and speak out against the norm of white supremacy and racism in all the spaces of this country,” she said.

The Chesapeake native started her protests out with just herself and a few other friends and a professor. Together, the group marched down Duke of Gloucester Street to the capital building and back. They would also stand in front of the Cheese Shop in Merchants Square to engage with people there and have a conversation about race and equality.

Hayes said the number of participants gradually grew weekly.

Then, as W&M prepared to start the fall semester, gatherings of 10 or more people were forbidden.

Hayes, along with several other friends acting as group leaders, decided to keep their protests stationary and spread participants six feet apart at Confusion Corner.

“Our goal is to make people uncomfortable,” she said.

This is also Hayes’s first time leading protests. Aside from organizing weekend protests and giving public speeches, Hayes is also a full-time student studying elementary school education and a track & field athlete.

“I have a lot of help in producing content for these protests, and a lot of people have stepped up to the plate in helping me because they know I have a lot on my plate,” Hayes said. “Senior year and balancing this is a lot but I think I’m balancing it well.”

William & Mary students carry hand-made signs in Merchants Square. (WYDaily/Gabrielle Rente)

She and several other friends have meetings every Friday night to plan out the next day’s protest. She said in each group of 10, there is a person who is either a friend or a person she trusts helping lead and organize.

“I learn weekly and now monthly,” she said. “It’s a learning process every week.”

And with any protest, there is always the voice of opposition. Hayes said she has had people in passing call her stupid and anti-American.

“We try to not argue but inform,” she said. “And the people that I work with have come to realize the importance of not arguing but informing.”

Last Saturday, supporters of President Donald Trump gathered for a parade that traveled from the Marquis Center down 199. Some Trump supporters drove through the intersection, honking at the student protestors.

“What we’re saying is not political,” Hayes said. “All we’re saying is Black Lives Matter. It’s interesting to see how people are offended by it.”

As for how long the protests will go for, Hayes said she’s unsure but plans on continuing her weekend routine throughout the rest of the school year.

“Hopefully some people will decide to take it upon their ways when I leave undergrad or just continue it on,” she said. “I hope this sparks some type of urgency to speak out.”

But at the end of every protest each Saturday, Hayes said her goal is simple.

“We seek to educate the public about racism, police brutality, and pressing related issues, to hold a space for students and community members to speak on their experiences, and to hold our college administration accountable and provide a safe space where Black lives really do matter,” Hayes said.

“That’s what we hope to do and that’s what we aim to do.”

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