Unity Rises in Midlothian
By: Zachary R. Urquhart
The morning sun melts away the dew from the grass in historic downtown. Police barriers have been set up long before the first steps will be taken, ensuring a safe and peaceful environment for the protestors. The marchers congregate just outside the police station, meeting, mingling, and preparing for what may be the most important short walk in the town’s history. Churches, families, and supporters ready water stations for what promises to be a hot day, but as the temperature rises so does something else: unity.
It is amazing to think that such a short trek, barely over half a mile, could be so important, so impactful, so historic. For many in Midlothian, Saturday morning was more than just an act of protest against racial injustice in the nation and world. Saturday’s peaceful march and rally offered a glimpse into the racial harmony that is possible in a part of the country where disharmony has been more common.
As people have protested, marched, and attended rallies across the nation in the last two weeks, a young man with local roots thought something needed to be done closer to home.
Change Can Spread Like Wildfire
“I’m from Midlothian, and I witnessed a lot of racism here,” Tyler Gibson began. “We had been part of the protests in Mansfield, but we knew Midlothian needed a voice too.”
Gibson and his girlfriend, Murielle Hlavac, have been a part of the daily protest near the QT gas station. They decided to take further steps, though, and they organized Saturday’s march in Midlothian that traveled across the 8th street bridge, and culminated with a rally in the center of town.
“If one person in a community makes a change, that can spread like wildfire,” Hlavac said. “I think people just needed a push to see the impact we could make.” Though Gibson and Hlavac organized the event, they had help from dozens through Midlothian’s community to turn the idea of an historic march into a reality.
In the hour leading up to the march, the stage was set, metaphorically and literally, as the city set up a sound system in front of the historic Newton Cabin. Several hundred Midlothianites gathered at the police station, where the event began with spoken word, a moment of silence for some of the names recently lost due to racial violence and injustice, and a message from Police Chief Carl Smith.
“We want to be a part of this community, and we will work with you to be part of change,” Smith vowed shortly before he himself led the march procession.
No Longer Feeling Like Outsiders
Along the path, a few hundred people across racial and generational lines walked. They held signs with messages including “Black Lives Matter,” “Color is not a Crime,” and “Be the Change.” Timothy Fitten carried a bullhorn, engaging the marchers in call and responses asking for justice, peace, and equality. The day’s importance was not lost on his wife Brittany, who said, “Black people here sometimes feel like outsiders, but it makes my heart full to see this and know we’re accepted.”
Tony Robinson marched with his whole family, including three sons young enough that they had to be carried and pushed for parts of the morning. “I think it was important for them to be here because there is a legacy on looking back on this moment,” he explained. “Even though they don’t understand it completely, they are being a part of something bigger than them, that isn’t about them, but at the same time is about them.”
Resident Sandra Smith encapsulated the experience of many of the White marchers. “For the past few weeks, when I come across someone Black, I look them in the eye and tell them I stand with them, I am sorry, and I love them,” she detailed. “And each one looked back at me and said thank you for saying that, thank you for caring, it means so much to finally be hearing that.”
The march’s conclusion on the lawn of the Newton Cabin served as an important symbol for the moment. A unifying protest against racial injustice culminated at a well known landmark recognizing the city’s history, a history that has included its own slate of racism and division. After several speakers and rallying cries, the protestors joined in a somber experience.
A Powerful Moment Shared
While lying on the ground, with hands in the cuffed position, they listened to George Floyd’s last words read aloud. After that intense moment, the event ended with an uplifting message delivered by Midlothian resident and motivational speaker, Curtis “Action” Jackson.
“From the day we moved here two years ago, I started volunteering in the community. I mentor Tyler, so when he asked me to be a part of this, I was happy to help,” he said. Jackson’s message focused on connectedness and the impact that one person can have on another.
As the crowd dissipated around noon, there lingered a heavy sense of history and importance on the scene. Symphony Parson Lowe, a longtime Midlothian resident and one of Gibson’s co planners for the event, summed up the magnitude of the day, “We wanted to provide a voice, but also wanted diversity in race to showcase what is possible right here in Midlothian.” After a sea of local citizens across racial lines protested, marched, and attended a rally, the feeling is that Midlothian is ready for much needed change. “I never dreamed of a day where this city would come together like this to recognize that black lives do matter. We have to keep doing work, but this time, it just feels different.”
You can find Zach Urquhart on twitter @zurquhart.
Focus Daily News would like to thank Zach for writing this incredible story on Saturday’s march and Traci Unruh for providing the photographs.