Hundreds participate in Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston – Beckley Register-Herald

CHARLESTON Hundreds of people participated in a peaceful gathering of the Black Lives Matter rally on Sunday at the Capitol Complex.

Those who attended the rally said they considered the gathering to be a historical occurrence in West Virginia. They said the event meant spreading awareness for racial inequality.

Police were present all around the Capitol and checked belongings before people entered the rallies.

Sunday’s Black Lives Matter rally proved peaceful and concluded without incident, the Capitol Police announced later that night. They estimated about 400 people attended the Black Lives Matter event, which was organized by Black Lives Matter West Virginia as well as the CARE, or Call to Action for Racial Equality, Coalition.

Substantial assistance from the West Virginia State Police, Charleston Police and Fire Departments and the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center was instrumental in providing for a safe evening, Director Kevin Foreman of the West Virginia Division of Protective Services said in a release.

We work very well with these public safety partners, and these kinds of collaborations serve to make that relationship more successful going forward, Foreman said in the release.

Jennifer Wells, director of Youth Leadership with the Our Children Our Future campaign and a member of the CARE Coalition, said the rally was about standing in solidarity and uplifting people in a peaceful gathering.

We are standing for the community and those who have been marginalized, she said. We’re here and we’re working toward a better future.

She said although she felt negativity surrounded the cause, the group’s intention was not violence.

We don’t intend to come out in a violent nature. The fight does not mean violence. It means standing up, being very clear what we need to survive in this country. We have been met with violence, violent words, violent actions and violent perception. That’s not what this movement is. That’s not what we are about and it’s not what this event is about. It’s about coming together as a group, first and foremost. … It’s fortifying the fact that we should be together and work for a better country and a better state.

Gabrielle Chapman, executive director for the CARE Coalition, stressed the event is separate from those who want to remove Confederate statues such as the Stonewall Jackson statue, which is on the opposite side of the Capitol from where the Black Lives Matter rally took place.

She said the purpose of the rally is to shed light on ways people can eliminate racism throughout the state.

I feel like this is a historic event, she said. I don’t know if anything like this has happened in the state of West Virginia before, but I’m really proud to be part of it.

Before the rallies, several members of the West Virginia Council of Churches lined up to give a brief prayer for peace. They then marched for peace around the fountain of the complex. They also went to the Free Speech Rally to make sure each group could come to the areas safely.

The Rev. Jeff Allen, a United Methodist pastor and the executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, said he and other members felt it was important to support the rally.

We were concerned after what happened in Charlottesville, he said. We felt it was really important that we have some sort of clergy and church presence here to de-escalate any violence that might happen and also provide presence and witness for the church and to support the Black Lives Matter rally.

Caitlin Hays Gaffin, director of Operations with West Virginia Free, attended the Black Lives Matter rally. At her feet was a sign she had created that said “West Virginians for Racial Justice.” People came up to her to place their signatures on the sign for support. The banner had originally been made for a vigil last week at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

We wanted to bring it back today and made stickers to go along with it, she said. Everybody has been really responsive so far and that’s been good, especially with all these scary, horrible things that we have going on right now. It’s been nice to be able to come together as a community for something good. We are hoping to fill up this banner and bring it to events through the year.

Aliyah and Wayne Crozier, both of Charleston, and William Jewett, of Dunbar, also were at the Black Lives Matter rally. Aliyah Crozier said she was happy to see many people there.

I’m happy to see a lot of people know that racism is a bad thing and that all lives matter, she said.

Wayne Crozier said the event has special importance to him.

Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter, he said. It’s really just to say that Black Lives Matter also. It’s sad that we have to focus on the black lives matter but there are certain attacks that black people face that other people do not. So, it’s good to see a rainbow of people come out and say, ‘Hey, we support that,’ and let everyone know that racism will not win.

Jewett said he was happy to see the response.

It feels like my heart is going to jump out of my body, he said. I never thought I would see this in the city of Charleston, W.Va. It’s amazing. I thought maybe in one of the larger metropolitan cities or wherever but here in Charleston. It’s just love.

The Black Lives Matter rally also featured several speakers including Adrienne Belafonte Biesemeyer. Biesemeyer, whose father is Harry Belafonte, said she spent her life in West Virginia, graduating from West Virginia State College.

The reason I stayed here is because I fell in love, not only with the state but with the man I have been married to for 45 years, she said.

She reflected on her father, who is known for his humanitarian work and for songs including The Banana Boat Song (Day-O). She reflected on advice from her father, who she said is now 90 years old.

This has to be a fight, a struggle with young people, she said. His reply was that fascism is everybody’s fight. It doesn’t matter what your age is. He said that does not get you off the hook.

She said she wants to see West Virginia come to understanding and acceptance. She also talked about what the movement means to her.

A lot of people say, ‘Well, don’t all lives matter?’ Some view it as an offshoot of the Black Panthers. My answer is yes, all lives do matter. I believe in that. But how many white parents have to give instructions to their kids of, ‘If you’re stopped by the police, then this is what you have to do’? And for me, the phrase Black Lives Matter means yes, our lives matter also not exclusively but our lives matter also.

Email:; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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Hundreds participate in Black Lives Matter rally in Charleston – Beckley Register-Herald

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