It's time, now more than ever, to make solidarity visible in the struggle for racial justice. This Saturday (Nov. 19), SURJ Bay Area will stage its first "Human Billboard" to protest the police killings of unarmed Black men and women across the country—violence for which almost no officers have been charged or held accountable.
Shikira Porter, a Black woman in Neighbors for Racial Justice, explained: "For me it's really amazing to hold space in public for Black lives. That's saying so much. It's speaking to all marginalized groups. And holding space in a predominantly white neighborhood is powerful.”
Alanya Snyder, a white member of the group, agreed that it is especially powerful to address racism in person, and especially important for white people to engage directly. "I think the experience as a white person is really important because there's a choice. As a white person, it's not automatically in the room. By holding the sign, you're not adjusting to who your audience is at any given moment, as we might do in the world in conversations."
Neighbors For Racial Justice knows that it takes time to change hearts and minds. For that reason, the more people who commit to support them, the better. "We need to really commit and build capacity for this for the long haul. The commitment needs to be rooted in our every action, every day," Shikira added.
Stepping out from behind the computer can be especially crucial to building that capacity. As Shikira put it: "I'm on NextDoor a lot battling the racial profiling that goes up there. I'm always shocked at what people will say online, that I never hear in person when I'm on the corner. When people are behind the computer, they will say the most horrific, mean-spirited, evil thing. The conversations are definitely less toxic in-person. They're questioning and they may not agree, but it's less visceral."
Alanya agreed. While experiencing rejection can be more painful in person, receiving support also tends to feel stronger, she added. "The connection and strangers that are hugging you and crying—it's hard to share that human connection without the touch and eye contact."
Both women said they have been changed by the experience of participating in the weekly vigils. "Some of the signs that we hold are the names of the people who have been lost to police brutality," Shikira explained. "I had a woman come up to me and point to the sign I was holding with the name and say that was her cousin. It stopped me in my tracks and I fell silent for a long time with her. That was probably my most profound experience on the corner."
Join SURJ Bay Area's Human Billboard this weekend. We will be gathering from 12 to 1 pm at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market on the corner of Lakeshore and MacArthur in Oakland, rain or shine. RSVP on Facebook here.
Photos by Sam Breach on behalf of SURJ Bay Area.