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CHILDHOOD FRIENDS UNITE TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE

by Van Roy

FORM COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION AFTER PEACEFUL PROTEST

As the saying goes, “Children are not born to hate; they are raised to hate.” Countless studies have proven this theory to be true. Imagine you’ve just moved into a new neighborhood and a basketball comes over the tall wooden fence that separates your home from the one next door. “Wanna play?” says one kid to the other, sight unseen. And so begins the story and friendship of Kota Jeter and Taylor Henderson, friends now for over 20 years and organizers of the successful and peaceful Black Lives Matter protest and rally that occurred on the courthouse square in Marksville, Louisiana on June 6.

Henderson is the first to tell you that the irony is not lost when people stereotype him as a “country boy,” “redneck” or “coonass.” Jeter, on the other hand, is a rapper originally from Marksville, now living in Lafayette. The two felt strongly that their lifelong friendship could be a catalyst for education and change in the wake of the global movement that resulted after the tragic death of George Floyd. In one week’s time, the two planned the protest and galvanized family, friends and even local law enforcement to make it happen.

“The response was overwhelmingly positive and we wanted the people of Avoyelles to have a seat at the table addressing systemic racism, social injustice and police reform,” says Jeter.

In terms of demographics, the Marksville protest was not unlike countless others across the globe, with people of all ages and walks of life uniting for a common goal. The two, along with a core group of concerned citizens and friends, are in the process of forming a nonprofit called Publicly United. In addition to the Marksville event, the pair have gone before the mayor and city council of Mansura, where they marched peacefully on June 20 and have plans to create a community garden, a prototype that they’d like to duplicate in other towns in an effort to promote unity, education and conversation.

When asked if they have received any push backs or negative comments from the community, Jeter says, “I feel at times like we’re in a tug of war game, but we’re on the winning side.” Henderson says that, overall, he’s gained a lot of strength from being so vocal on his stance against racism, though there have been a couple of hate infused comments on his social media. “People don’t expect a guy like me to stand up, but to me, silence is violence and enough is enough. We knew we had to do something and felt strongly that our lifelong friendship as black and white men in the south could inspire people to be that change and be on the right side of history.”

The two also feel strongly that too many people are missing the point when it comes to Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter and want to help educate people on the difference. The same could be said regarding law enforcement. Jeter goes on to say, “My father was a police officer for many years after he got out of the service. Having a constructive dialogue with community leaders about police reform does not mean we don’t honor and appreciate the many men and women in law enforcement that serve and protect with high ethics and a moral compass.” In fact, Jeter and Henderson took pizzas to the Marksville Police Department in thanks for all their help the day of the rally. These passionate gentlemen are clearly leading by example.

Publicly United is currently planning community meetings, projects and events to focus on the concerns of the citizens with regards to the movement. Learn more about them by visiting them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

PHOTO CREDIT JACOB DUCOTE

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