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Women’s March Failed to Attract African Americans

“Forward together. Not one step back!” was the chant of Roanoke’s version of the International Women’s March Saturday. I found it impressive that when the adults reached a lull in the chant, small children ages five to 12 took over with tremendous zeal.

Brenda Hale, President of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP, spoke eloquently about the need to move beyond complacency; to fight for our rights. Thousands poured into the streets with signs; women, children and, surprisingly, a significant number of men.

Yet, the numbers of African-Americans marching seemed extremely low; perhaps one percent of the crowd.  After the marchers began to dissipate, I found two African-Americans sitting on a downtown bench.  I asked them why they had chosen not to participate in the march. Their answers were eye-opening.

“We (Blacks) know that no matter how many marches and speeches {there are} nothing will be done for us,” said Shawntee Sims of NW Roanoke.  “America wasn’t and isn’t for us.”

“My priority is putting food on the table,” said Steve Banks, a recent immigrant to Roanoke from Ohio. “It’s an everyday struggle and not just for me. There are a lot of poor and homeless people here; people stay in their groups and stick to their own.”

When I asked what some of the marchers could do to really make a difference going forward, Sims and Banks both said that people should get to know their neighbors; the ones across town. It’s really about re-defining who your neighbors are.

“For us it’s one step forward (when Obama got elected) and a hundred steps back with the election of Trump,” said Sims. “Every time we (African-Americans) thought we were close, we were dropped 100 years back.”

“Open your eyes,” said Banks. “Pay it forward because you never know what someone else is going through.”

Mary E. Campagna


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