Meet The Trailblazing Organizers Of The March For Racial Justice


On Sept. 30, 1919 a three-day racial confrontation began after a shooting took place at a Progressive Farmers and Household Union meeting near Elaine, Arkansas. As a result of the violence, more than 200 black Americans were estimated to have been killed. On the anniversary of this date, often called the Elaine Massacre, or the Elaine race riot, organizers behind the March For Racial Justice have planned a demonstration to "organize, mobilize, and rise up together for racial justice in Washington, D.C."

On Saturday, march participants will gather in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, listen to a series of speakers, and then march toward the Capitol, according to an itinerary circulated by the group. The demonstration will end with a vigil at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

"Now more than ever, in the face of an administration that targets the most vulnerable among us, we must march in solidarity to demand justice," Maurice Cook, co-founder and co-chair, said in a M4RJ press release.

Cook is the founder and executive director of Serve Your City, a D.C.-based nonprofit that seeks "to engage and motivate underserved D.C. students," and one of six activist organizers behind the march; the other five organizers are Dorcas Davis, Andrea​ ​Ciannavei, Agunda​ ​Okeyo, Johnnie​ ​Jae, and Gabriel​ ​Black​ ​Elk.

Each organizer is an activist and advocate for equality. Davis is the founder of Smiling Down Arts, described as "an arts-in-education company." She described the march as "the moment to stand with our brothers and sisters and stand up for each other in the face of increasing terror."

Every day, we are watching the most vulnerable communities in the U.S. be attacked through by a justice system and privileged individuals that don't care about our humanity, our lives, or our loved ones.

Co-founder Andrea​ ​Ciannavei has helped organize other grassroots movements and groups such as Interoccupy and Occupy Sandy, among others. "I didn't invent white supremacy," Ciannavei said in the group's press release, "but I certainly did inherit it and I enjoy its benefits every day."

Ciannavei said she is marching to protest police killings of black Americans, so that her friends, loved ones, and posterity can "live with the full breadth of aspirations and dreams that other people do," and because she feels it is her duty.

Agunda​ ​Okeyo is the group's communication chair. Okeyo produces the event Sisters of Comedy and is an organizer of #GOPHandsOffMe, a movement which aims to end "years of the racist, sexist, misogynistic politics and policies," according to the group's Facebook page.

Under the "Why I March" section of the press release issued by organizers, Okeyo explained:

It's time for America to look itself squarely in the eye, beyond political rhetoric and jaw dropping mendacity to accept that a more perfect union isn't about confronting each other, but ourselves.

Founder and CEO of A Tribe Called Geek, Johnnie Jae, is also among the core group of organizers. Jae is a member of the Otoe-Missouria and Choctaw tribes of Oklahoma, and said that she will march because:

[I] believe in a future where every single one of us, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion and disabilities are given equal opportunity and protection of the law. ... It's time we stand up, dismantle these oppressive systems and build a new foundation together.

Last but not least, indigenous activist ​Gabriel Black​ ​Elk is the sixth organizer of the March for Racial Justice, who stated in the group's press release:

We need a bigger, stronger awareness of unity. Communities of color are already connected. We can show what acceptance of other cultures and heritages looks like to the upper class. We have been kept out of the loop of our own histories.

but many of us come together here, continuing the fight for our rights.

The main event will take place in Washington, D.C., but if you can't make it there this weekend, a number of sister marches plan to demonstrate in solidarity. There are marches planned in California, New York, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Maine, and several other states, according to the group's website.