JACKSON, Wyo. — Jailyn “J” Wallace expected around 400 people would attend the “March for Unity,” organized by Wallace and his new group “Teton People of Color and Allies.”
It’s hard to count up to 400 heads in a public space, let alone more. But the turnout was markedly larger than expected.
“I did not expect that many people,” Wallace said.
The intent of the march and the demonstration was to “promote unity and open dialogue,” Wallace told Buckrail last Friday before the event. “It is supposed to promote unity within our community, and progress.”
Several hundred people marched from the Teton County Fairgrounds to the Town Square at 4 p.m. Sunday evening. A noticeable difference between this demonstration and the many others that have erupted since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 was police presence. Members of the Jackson Police Department provided an escort along the route, from the Fair Grounds down Flat Creek Drive, to Pearl Ave., past the Police Department where a small group of counterprotesters gathered, and finally to the Town Square.
“This march is not in opposition to police,” Wallace said.
Once on the Town Square, demonstrators settled in for a nearly two-hour program of speakers and dialogue. Speakers, including Wallace, shared their experiences with race and racism in Teton County. Wallace encouraged “open dialogue” as a way to bridge gaps between community members.
“Yes, all lives matter,'” Wallace spoke through a microphone on the south side of the Square. ” But statistically, black lives do not matter.”
Wallace began his speech by asking the crowd what “Black Lives Matter” mean to them. Ourdia Hodge responded:
“When some lives are not treated with the same value, we have to do something,” Hodge yelled for the crowd to hear. “Damn right all lives matter. But when some are disregarded, you have to stand up.”
Arthur Ellis offered his perspective as a 29-year-old black man in Jackson. “I’ve never seen this many nonblack people stand up for black people,” Ellis said.
“I’m not just fighting for me. I love Jackson. I can’t even express how I feel. It’s time to stop being quiet.”
Wallace eventually offered the mic to anyone who wanted to speak up, and plenty of participants offered their takes. The only dissenting voice was that of Rebecca Bextel, who had been at the Police Department counter-protest. Bextel said she grew up a poor white woman in the south and that the problems that befall white people and black people are “mostly the same.”
“That’s not true!” the crowd yelled back.
The march and its organizers faced some criticism and skepticism for its insistence on peace and unity over what many regard as rightful anger. Marchers were asked not to chant or block traffic. Rumors circulated that the organizers were funded by out-of-town interests. Wallace and co-organizer Kori Arritt deny all such charges. Arritt said the point was to prove that it is “possible to make a statement without disrupting.”
“It hurts because I’m not doing this for myself,” Wallace said. “I’m 22. The best thing for me to do is educate and empower. I don’t claim to speak to the black community.”
Photos: Buckrail // Nick Sulzer
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