LORTON, VA — Hundreds of people rallied and marched at an event in Lorton Saturday, organized by alumni of South County High School, to call for an end to police brutality and bring awareness to the structural racism in many aspects of life in the United States, from education to health care to policing.
During the rally portion, speakers emphasized that participants need to do more than just show up at marches and rallies. They singled out the white participants and urged them to speak out against racism in their schools, workplaces and homes when they see it.
Marlon Dubuisson, an alumnus of South County High and one of the organizers of the march, recalled the racism he experienced during his high school years and how the school administration did not like his outspokenness about the school's practices.
When Dubuisson spoke up about racism, school administrators told him that he's making it an "uncomfortable learning environment" and that if he didn't stop, he would be suspended from the football team. "They want the white students to feel comfortable enough that the black student have to be comfortable living under racism," he told the crowd.
Dubuisson said his experience is not unlike other students in Virginia. Four years ago, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee on the football field during the national anthem in protest of police killings of black people and racial injustice, the Virginia High School League said that any player who takes a knee will be suspended for that game.
"Now you're silencing black and supporting athletes across the entire state. That conformity to a system that oppresses voices cannot be sustained. And that's what we're fighting back against right now," he said.
The march was organized by South County alumni Dubuisson, Sakira Coleman, Emani Cannady and Vandyke. After the rally portion of the event, the hundreds of participants marched with their signs from the South County High School parking lot onto Silverbrook Road.
Cannady, in an interview with Patch, said she and her march co-organizers had bad experiences with race during their years at South County High School. "And we're trying to create a dialogue to eradicate the stuff that happened to us and some of the stuff's that's happened recently," said Cannady, who graduated from South County in 2015 and now works as a substitute teacher at the high school.
The organizers also wanted to make the event welcoming to students across Fairfax County. "The number of black and brown kids I've talked to from different areas across the county have had different experiences but somewhat equal on the racial bias part," she said.
Cannady said the Fairfax County Police Department needs to change how it polices the young people who go to school at South County. There's a lot of tension in the area around the school over how the police treat African American students who live in areas along Route 1 versus how they treat white children who attend South County and live in neighborhoods such as Barrington and Crosspointe.
In response to the June 5 incident in the Hybla Valley area when a Fairfax County Police officer user a Taser on a black man who was in medical distress, Cannady said "they're trigger-happy."
"Even if it's not a finger on a trigger of a gun, a finger on a trigger of a Taser for somebody who has medical distress is something that shouldn't have even occurred," she said. "The same thing with Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, George Floyd — all three of them had pre-existing conditions that police officers did not check to see, did not do anything about and they killed all of those people."
Mark Cannady, the father of Emani Cannady, said his daughter has been politically active since she was a young girl. He expressed amazement in how his daughter and the other organizers of Saturday's march were able to bring the event together so quickly.
"I don't think I've ever seen anything like this at South County," said Cannady, who serves as chair of the Virginia Democratic Small Business Caucus. "This is good that South County is involved in doing this. I appreciate the support of the community."
Cannady said the focus should remain on the organizing success of the recent graduates from South County. "I'm particularly proud of the South County High School graduates — and now college graduates — who are coming back working with the people here and being part of the community to really stand up for their constitutional rights," he said.
Vandyke, who graduated from South County in 2012, recalled how South County administrators threatened to call Virginia Tech and ask them to take away his football scholarship if he did not do something to stop students from rushing the field after big victories. They accused Vandyke of inciting a riot, he said.
At the time, Vandyke said he felt alone and that nobody was sticking up for him. In such cases, he said, white people need to use their privilege in society to speak up when African Americans are being targeted. "Use your power, he said.
Vandyke told a story of how a white team mother at South County High School did offer support. She called him and said, 'Hey, I believe they're targeting you. I believe they're scapegoating you. And that's not right." That one conversation helped to empower him and realize he was not doing anything wrong, he said.
During the rally, Sakira Coleman, another organizer of the event, highlighted how black Americans experience racism in all aspects of life, including health care. Structural racism in health care and social service delivery means that African American women often receive poorer quality care than white women.
"I have to be scared of having children for fear that the doctors will not take care of me as well as they would my white counterpart," she said.
In his speech, Dubuisson, who serves as the Young Adult Committee chairman for the Fairfax County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told a story about an interaction he recently had on social media with an acquaintance who said the current protest movement isn't going to change anything and how people shouldn't be protesting in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.
"Don't you think it's more problematic that racism is at a point in America that it's so bad right now that people literally have to march during a global pandemic," he said. "Racism right now is the pandemic that we need to end and that's what we're worrying about."