As Demonstrations Continue In Springfield, Message Focuses On Creating Change

Jun 7, 2020

In Springfield, demonstrations continued over the weekend against police brutality and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.

Many speakers addressed how to create change at a rally called “Manifesting Our Momentum,” where elected officials and faith leaders took a prominent role.

The Rev. T. Ray McJunkins, lead pastor of Union Baptist Church in Springfield, said he often hears people respond to ‘Black Lives Matter’ with ‘All Lives Matter.’

“We know all lives matter. We just need your help in the movement of black lives matter because it is the black lives that are in danger,” McJunkins said. He referenced a list of situations recently in which black people have died at the hands of the police.

McJunkins said he’s excited to see what change the group of young people organizing and protesting for days brings about.

Leroy Newbon, Jr., - a Springfield resident and activist who helped organize the event Sunday – said he’s been out protesting nearly every day this week.

“What we’re doing is not just because of George Floyd. He is one of the many, many reasons why we are out here… why we need to work for change,” he said. “And that work needs to start right now. And so I need to ask you all - What do we do next?”

He, John Keating and a handful others are launching a new organization – Education and Action Together (EAT). They said their next action is a know-your-rights training so people understand what rights they have when they interact with the police.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin spoke about a proposal in Congress to curb use of violent force by police officers. He also encouraged people to make change on a more local level, and while he’s heard calls to abolish the police, he doesn’t support it.

“We need police because we are not perfect people,” Durbin said. “We need reform because the police are not perfect either. We want to make them better, more effective, fairer, more just in the important job that they do.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin joins a moment of silent a rally Sunday.
Credit Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Speakers included Mayor Jim Langfelder, Ministerial Alliance of Springfield head Dan Fracey, Rev. Martin Woulfe of the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Church, Black Lives Matter Springfield cofounder Sunshine Clemons, and Alds. Shawn Greogory and Joe McMenmin.

“This is the only beginning,” said Jerry Banks, a recent high school graduate and member of the Black People’s Party of America - a local group of young people that formed this week. “Dr. Martin Luther King protested for 381 days during the bus boycotts. We’ve been here for maybe a week. We definitely have a lot more to go. I’m willing to fight the fight and I hope you guys are too.”

As the protest wound down, members of BPPA gathered food and other donations to hand out to people who are homeless downtown.

Derrick Roberts, another recent high school graduate, said they saw homeless people walking around downtown while they were marching and wanted to do something to make them feel welcome.

Members of the Black People's Party of America in Springfield - a group of young organizers who planned Black Lives Matter protests - collect food and other donations to hand out to people who are homeless.
Credit Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Friday And Saturday Protests

Protesters in Springfield saw a small crowd on Friday evening when only about 20 demonstrators showed up, but they still chanted, lined up to hold up their signs, and marched the streets of downtown.

De’Lon James, youth minister at Abundant Faith Church has attended protests throughout the week. He said he didn’t mind the small crowd because his real friends were there with him, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We may not be the spark that changes the world, but we are participating in the spark that changes the world,” James said. “We can only do our part.”

Michael Greenfield, general manager at Godfather's Pizza in Springfield,put a stand on the corner of Second and Capitol and offered pizza to demonstrators and people in cars who drove by and honked their horns.

Greenfield said he’s noticed a lot of local restaurants haven’t been involved with the protests.

“I’ve seen a lot of Facebook posts where people are protesting, but they’re also saying they’re hungry,” Greenfield says. “As a caucasian man, there is nothing much I could do to help, so what else to do besides feed them?”

On Saturday, the crowd picked back up when a few hundred people showed up to participate. Some demonstrators marched, while others danced in the streets and on the stairs of the Illinois Capitol.

Springfield’s Police Department Chief Kenny Winslow showed up to shake hands and pass out water bottles to protesters.

Also in attendance was Teresa Haley, president of the local branch of the NAACP and the NAACP Illinois State Conference. She spoke about the organization’s roots in the capital city, as it was founded in response to the 1908 Springfield Race Riots .

“I want you to encourage you not only to register to vote, not only to show up for election day, but to consider running for some of these offices,” Haley said.

Haley took to Facebook last week, asking people not to protest because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, but to register to vote and to fill out the 2020 Census.

The crowd dispersed around 10 p.m.