By Sukainah Abid-Kons, contributor
What began as a plan to distribute 100 “Black Lives Matter” signs has increased to more than six-fold since June, as demand for signs across the city continues to rise.
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed, the Northeast Neighborhood Association (NENA) wanted to offer local residents ways to express their support and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter Movement.
“It came about organically, in a way,” said Melissa Fisher, a member of NENA and one of the organizers of this project.
NENA planned to order 100 signs from an online vendor, but Fisher said within a day, the group received more than 200 requests for them, It soon rose to 250. And now the project has distributed more than 600 signs.
On Saturday, June 13, members of NENA opened the parking lot of the community center on Broad Street to distribute 250 black-and-white signs that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” More signs were distributed during an event on the 4th of July, as well as throughout the summer to residents who have ordered them.
Community members can either buy the signs from NENA or make a donation to a nonprofit or charitable organization in exchange for a sign, Fisher said. NENA set up a Google form for people to request a sign or residents can email Fisher at [email protected] or NENA at [email protected].
NENA President Karen Thomas also said any extra funds received past the cost of the signs will be donated to NENA
“It was really exciting to see the community-wide response,” Fisher said. She also pointed out that the sign handouts that have happened at the NENA community center have helped show members of the community where that location is for future reference.
“This simple act of solidarity between two different neighborhoods shows how strong we are as a city. It is my hope to see Black Lives Matter signs in all neighborhoods across the city,” said Mayor Deanna Reed after the sign handouts on June 13.
Indeed, over the past six weeks, these signs have been popping up across the city. From Broad Street to Park View and throughout the downtown area, they are now in many front yards.
One resident in Park View, Heidi Byler, noticed a lack of signage in her neighborhood a few weeks ago, so she took the initiative to change that.
“I think we kind of felt like it was way past time to say ‘Hey, for hundreds of years you’ve been treated as less-than-human, and you matter,’” Byler said. She said in the weeks that followed, more signs appeared in the Park View area, which she said was uplifting.
“My neighbor also has one. He actually asked us where we got ours because he was having trouble finding one,” Byler said.
At Trinity Presbyterian Church on South High Street, Reverend Stephanie Sorge felt that she could use the sign to express to her community that her congregation stands in solidarity with the movement.
“I think we need to be vocal in our solidarity and be willing to make statements that should be obvious and reflect our faith,” Sorge said.
She also pointed out that, as a predominantly white congregation that is part of a predominantly white denomination, her church needs to reexamine its history and recognize instances when they were “complacent in white supremacy, whether intentionally or not.”
Fisher said since this campaign began, she’s been contacted by communities in Charlottesville, Staunton, and Keezletown who are either interested in purchasing signs through NENA or have been inspired by their campaign to start their own sign drives in their communities.
While there have been no formal protests to the campaign, some sign owners have received negative feedback on their decisions to put up the signs.
“We’ve had a fair amount of signs stolen from people’s yards,” Fisher said. But she doesn’t allow herself to be completely discouraged by these acts of protest.
“For every sign that gets stolen, another ten have gotten ordered. The opposition is, of course, there. But the solidarity is there as well,” Fisher said. She also noted that people who have had signs stolen will contact her soon after to order another one, showing that the efforts to show solidarity have not been hindered.
Fisher also acknowledged that activism cannot stop at just posting signs.
“This is a very simple and concise way to share the message in a visible way while continuing to try and live it out every day,” she said.
Fisher also said the campaign will keep going with no set deadline. As long as members of the community continue to order signs, she and the rest of NENA will continue to distribute them, she said.
Byler, the Park View resident, said she was excited to see the campaign’s popularity grow over throughout the summer.
“Our city is so diverse,” she said, “I hope it means that we see there is inequity in the city and that we’re ready to do something about it.”
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