After a long march Sunday night – and six days of organizing to make it happen while still working a full-time job – Quisha Bankhead’s smile lit up downtown York.
She stood before the chamber of commerce building where several hundred people had gathered after her Stop the Violence March – a Black Lives Matter event focusing on all lives and all people – proved what she had been saying all along.
All lives are sacred. All people have dignity. Together, starting with a young black woman in York, the world can change if there is unity.
The event was huge by any measure in the small city of York on a sweltering Sunday night. The numbers were big, and the hope is the impact will be even bigger. Bankhead, with a committee of young volunteers committed to safety and dignity and justice for all people, showed the future.
“I am amazed,” she said afterward. “I didn’t think it was going to be this big. I am thankful to everyone who came.”
The march, she said, “showed that everyone is peaceful. It was a great moment.”
The moment started for this new leader in York eight years ago, when her grandfather, Ernest Tolbert, was killed. A beloved York city public works employee, Tolbert was shot and killed while working a second job at night at a laundry. After two years of investigation, police arrested a man from York, Jomar Robinson, for the killing. He was later convicted.
Tolbert and his family are black. Robinson is black. Bankhead reminded people Sunday that violence against anyone, by anyone, regardless of race, is wrong.
“I value the life of everyone here,” she said.
She showed through her words and her deeds that all lives do matter. The violence must stop. Black Lives Matter, her march sign said, but not only black lives. All lives.
Bankhead and the others who put on this rally showed a new generation of York County activists: Armed with social media to recruit people and spread the word, and energy and love, and a willingness to try to make York and York County a better and safer place.
Many spoke of the black people killed while in police custody, but they also spoke of the violence that must stop when too many times the victim is black and the person who commits the crime is black.
All said we can and must do better.
At the beginning of the event sat a woman from York who is another example of why that march took place. She can walk, but not much without a cane. She is disabled because in 2008, she was shot in the head and back by a York County serial criminal named Phillip Watts.
“I am right here; look at me,” said Ida Neal Lord, 51. “I was shot. This is why the violence has to stop.”
The marchers succeeded Sunday night. They pulled no punches. They were honest and told York County what it needs to hear. That violence, almost always from the barrel of a gun by bullets that do not know black and white but only death, is the enemy. Not the police.
Two young black girls carried a sign that displayed the names of the white Dallas police officers killed July 7.
“I put my life on the line to protect those who marched at the Black Lives Matter march in Dallas,” the sign said.
A white woman held a sign that read simply, “Only love can conquer hate.”
York Police Chief Andy Robinson spoke eloquently after the march, reminding people that America is built on a basic thing: All are created equal. He vowed to continue to seek justice for crime victims. He praised the event’s organizers, who like him want York to be the best it can be for all people of all colors.
A place where guns do not kill.
Like Baton Rouge, just hours before the march, where officers black and white were killed Sunday by guns and hate.
Robinson’s marching alongside people of all races, through the city he is tasked with protecting, was as powerful as any words. He wore his uniform. He showed courage.
Also working among dozens of York officers to protect all people, walking the march route, was Lt. Rick Thomasson. Thomasson, a black officer in York for decades, was hugged uncountable times and his hand shaken until it hurt by so many people who know him and thanked him for his service to his community of all races.
Thomasson was all business during the march. After it was over, he stood by himself, his badge covered by a black band in memory of slain officers in other cities. He smiled at his city and its people. He smiled at their unity and their solidarity with the police and the idea that different people can come together to make York better.
The greatness of Sunday night was that there was no guest list. Anyone could show up, and they did. The march featured old and young, black and white, all united by wanting to end violence.
Four kids walked side by side in the march – Adrianna Neal, 7; Ashonti Krepps, 10; Moniya Caldwell, 9; Danien McCoy, 11.
“Black lives matter,” Adrianna said, and Damien echoed the thought.
“Black people matter,” said Ashonti and Moniya.
The kids spoke it plainly.
Bankhead and others vowed afterward to keep rallying people against violence, to hold more events, to seek justice for all.