By Harley Nefe
University of North Carolina at Charlotte student Raheim Andrews, who was born and raised in North Carolina and lived in Boone, will be holding a peaceful protest walk for injustice and inequality in downtown Boone June 7 at 5 p.m.
The justice walk will begin on College Street on the Appalachian State University campus at the library circle and will proceed along King Street to the Watauga County Courthouse.
Due to COVID-19 concerns, masks are required for individuals to come out and join the protest, Andrews said.
“Safety is the number one concern here for me,” Andrews said. “I just want to make sure everyone’s safe.”
If individuals are unable to attend and would like to still get involved, they can donate, educate and vote, Andrews wrote in an email.
“Boone is a place where black people are extremely under represented and under valued,” Andrews wrote.
This Boone event is one of many protests that have occurred across the United States after a video circulated of George Floyd being held on the ground by police officers in Minneapolis, with police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he repeatedly told officers that he couldn’t breathe. Floyd, who was 46 years old, had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease and became unresponsive and was later pronounced dead at a hospital on May 25. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
“If you love your black brothers and sisters and are too fed up with the oppression they face, join me,” Andrews wrote. “We will march King Street peacefully and together in memory of George Floyd and all instances of violence against black Americans.”
Attendants participating in the protest will also kneel for nine minutes once they reach the courthouse, which is about the same length of time Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, Andrews wrote.
The protest scheduled for June 7 comes a week after a protest that occurred in downtown Boone on May 31, where hundreds of students and Boone residents peacefully assembled.
Andrews created a Facebook event page titled Justice Walk and an event flyer that he has spread around on social media and on one of Boone’s community Facebook pages called App State Classifieds.
“I made sure by spreading the word that everyone knows that this is going to be a very peaceful thing, a very loving thing,” Andrews said. “I’m hoping to show and spread a little light on the injustices that have happened in the world and some of the injustices that even have happened in Boone and how we as a town can do better for that next generation.”
Andrews said he has a sister that will be attending high school in a year, and he doesn’t want her to go through some of the things that he experienced during his years at Watauga High School.
“I’m hoping this (protest) will be organized and shed some light on what it’s like to be black in Boone,” Andrews said. “And so people in Boone can kind of understand from that perspective. Especially those who aren’t black, so they can begin to stand with us in a sense. I think that would be powerful to bring to my hometown.”
Andrews moved in 2010 and attended high school and his freshman year of college in Boone before transferring to Charlotte.
When speaking of his own personal experiences, Andrews said there was an incident at Watauga High School where he had been called the N word during soccer practice, and others around heard it.
“At the time, when I was younger, that just enraged me, and I tried to get in his face shouting, but I had teammates holding me back,” Andrews said.
Afterward, Andrews said he got into the car with his parents, and “I just immediately broke down, and I’ve never felt so hurt and alone in my life off of that word. It really tore me up for a while, and since then, the guy has at least tried to apologize to me. But that was just one of the times where I had faced something like that.”
Andrews also said, “I will never forget that aspect of what that pain and hurt felt like. So, it doesn’t overcrowd how high school was for me, but it’s something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. But that was the first time I have ever been called that to my face. So, that was a really, really, traumatic experience that did kind of overcast what high school was like in Boone for me.”
The protest is not only for him and what he experienced, but for others, and so they don’t have to go through the same experiences, Andrews said.
Andrews also said despite the incident, “The people that I met at Watauga were some of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. And I think that will always overlook everything and the hate. I’ll always take that loving aspect with me.”
“I’m really just trying to see the whole town come together in loving, peaceful lines and spreading more love and peace throughout the community,” Andrews said.
During the organization of the event, Andrews said he also talked to the Town of Boone and the Boone Police Department.
Andrews said Andy Le Beau, interim police chief of Boone Police Department, personally called him and said that the Appalachian State University and Boone police departments will be providing water for walkers in the beginning, middle and end of the walk.
In the protest that took place May 31, Boone Police Department marched in the back of the group.
“I told him that it would be a very, very powerful message that if either him or a couple of his officers just walked in the very front, next to me,” Andrews said. “(Le Beau) said that he would love to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with me down King Street, which is just an amazing message that will be sent throughout Boone and even honestly, the world. It can be a ripple effect of the love and unifying time that we are all standing together.”
Boone Police Department will also be doing traffic control. Depending on the number of individuals in attendance, traffic may be diverted on King Street. However, the plan is to walk on the sidewalks.
“We believe (the protesting) is something that needs to be addressed and seen,” Le Beau said. “We support them in raising awareness and attention to the issue, and we intend to do that.”
Le Beau also said, “We don’t want this event to be about the Boone Police Department. We want it to be about what Raheim is bringing to the forefront. And that’s the lack of justice, particularly what happened to George Floyd and the bigger issue of injustice in America.”
Andrews said based on the volume of people who have shared and liked his post regarding the event on Facebook and reached out to him, he thinks it’s going to be a good turnout. Andrews said he recommends individuals who wish to participate to arrive around 4:30 p.m. to get a parking spot and to be prepared to walk around 5 p.m.
“In the last protest, we really believe that the points that the protesters were making were well received by not only the whole community, but by law enforcement in general because they were passionate,” Le Beau said. “There was no violence; nobody damaged property. And I think our community respects that and appreciates that … (Raheim) certainly invited us, and we’re happy to walk along with him and show support for this cause, and we hope that it’s another positive event for the town of Boone.”