The short caravan of vehicles, full of water, snacks and toiletries, stopped along College Street in uptown on Wednesday night as volunteers prepared to hand out items to people living in tents nearby.
Changing “We see you, we love you,” about 100 people — many who spent recent nights protesting and marching in Charlotte — turned their efforts on the 13th day of demonstrations toward service. The effort was led by Mario Black and Million Youth March of Charlotte and Salisbury. Black and others have been central to organizing marches to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The thousands descending on and around uptown for protests that go late into the night can be disruptive for people who are homeless and sleep nearby, said volunteer Lezlie Briggs.
“I’m out here helping spread the positivity that oftentimes gets overshadowed by the negative,” she said.
“This is the other side of Charlotte that people don’t realize exist ... In the midst of demonstrating, it’s also showing love and appreciation and gratitude ... To the kings and queens that are less fortunate than us.”
The group of volunteers spent several days gathering supplies and donations for bottled water, hygiene items, snacks, sandwiches and more to give to homeless people.
Leaving from Marshall Park before sunset, volunteers marched toward the Urban Ministry Center. Along the way, those marching held Black Lives Matter signs and chanted “No Justice, No Peace” and said the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Keith Lamont Scott, all people killed by police officers.
As the approached the camps, they chanted “We see you, we love you,” and fanned out to distribute the supplies.
Cortez Gilbert sat outside his tent near the center. Gilbert, who has been homeless for about two years, said his background as a social worker has taught him the protests should be about more than one black man killed by police, but rather the larger policies that keep people disenfranchised.
He cautioned treating the demonstrations as a temporary photo opportunity, saying making substantial change means changing systems.
“You want to really know what it’s like out here? Come out here,” he said. “A man can’t talk about what it’s like out here unless he’s out here.”
‘We the people’
Dupree Evans, 59, watched the crowd of volunteers and demonstrators pass by the building alcove where he’d been sleeping recently, ever since he lost his housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s seen the protests pass several nights, and wonders if protesters are choosing this route because of the symbolism of marching on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“I’m on the streets and I’m used to the noise,” he said, adding he hopes the protests create something positive. “Sometimes, when you want to change something, you have to get their attention.”
Most nights the protesters and police have passed without major disruption, he said, but Wednesday night volunteers brought food and snacks he panned to bring for lunch during his construction shift on a nearby apartment complex the next day.
He said he wouldn’t have trouble sleeping because he was tucked away, his boots and hard hat nestled in the alcove with the donations and his other belongings.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said of the demonstrators. “People get together and they can do a lot. The government is supposed to be working for us, ‘We the people,’ not ‘we the policemen or we the president.’”