JAMES CITY COUNTY — For many, the past year has felt more like a century.
This was the theme of Tuesday evening’s protest, hosted by Williamsburg Action (WA). It’s a phrase that has multiple meanings for the group.
On a somber note, it’s been a year since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. Since then, one of the police officers, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of three charges related to Floyd’s death.
It has also been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S.; dramatically altering lives and changing how people not only view themselves, but the world around them.
It has also been one year since WA was founded, and it is still going strong.
The group, which recently received status as an official nonprofit organization, commemorated the day with what Antonia Darnella, president and founder of WA, called “the roots of the organization” — a protest.
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Nearly 50 people attended the protest in front of the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse on Monticello Avenue. Participants brought home-made signs and wore t-shirts, some bearing the face of George Floyd, some listing the names of some of the victims of police brutality. A mother carried a sign that read, “Because I have a Black son.”
A group of African drummers, some of whom are interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg (CW), gathered together to add a beat to the protestors’ chants.
“No justice, no peace.”
“Say his name. George Floyd.”
Rodney Pressley, a historical interpreter, played the djembe, alongside CW carriage driver, Adam Canaday. Some children came up to join the group, hitting drums, shaking shekeres, and dancing.
After about 20 minutes of music and chants, speakers came up to take the mic and share their thoughts and experiences with the crowd. Hampton based artist Romonta Allen sang a song he wrote that morning called “I want to live.”
Darnella and Director of Media & Community Engagement for WA Johnette Weaver, each read 13 names of people, half of whom were children, who were killed as a result of police brutality. Afterwards, there was a moment of silence.
An evening filled with powerful mixed motions, the event also saw appearances from the Williamsburg James City County Coalition for Community Justice, and All Together, a group that has been in the area for more than 20 years.
After speeches from several more guest speakers, WA gave our awards to community members. Column 15 was awarded a certificate in community excellence. Coming to the Table was recognized for outstanding support. Also acknowledged was the Village Initiative, the Williamsburg Unitarian Universalist Church, and the WJCC Coalition for Community Justice.
In its year of existence, WA has organized protests and rallies, met with local governing officials, hosted discussions on equality, and more importantly, formed a community of like-minded individuals who strive for representation, respect, and rights.
Canaday, taking the mic, shared several experiences in which he was stopped by a police officer. When he was walking from work in 2017 while dressed in his CW costume, a police officer pulled over to question Canaday.
“He only left me alone after a lady came out of the Wawa and asked ‘Is there a problem here?’” he said.
Canaday also spoke of the historical significance CW has, especially for Black history. “This here, this is ours,” he said. “If you walk down Duke of Gloucester St. and you don’t know who lived in the Peyton Randolph House, that’s a problem.”
After the event wrapped up around 8 p.m., Darnella said in an interview that the next step for Williamsburg Action would be establishing a physical location. She hopes the group can one day provide a safe location for released non-violent felons to help assimilate them back into society and provide resources for community members.
“At our one year mark, we have more structure, and there is still much more work to be done,” Darnella said.
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