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Small town voices

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

The Black Lives Matter protest movement touched Apalachicola in a modest way last week, with a larger gathering slated for this Saturday.

In a show of support for the 20 or so protesters, Sheriff A.J. Smith, Apalachicola Mayor Kevin Begos and the Rev. Eric Zile, pastor of the city’s oldest house of worship, Trinity Episcopal Church, all joined the Monday evening march.

Organized by Zachary Jones, the gathering began at the pavilion across from the community garden, where signs were created, and then wound past Chestnut Cemetery as it advanced to the city police department on U.S. 98 a few blocks away. Police Chief Bobby Varnes drove his truck at a distance, ensuring traffic safety for the entirely peaceful protest.

“This is not a political issue, it's a human issue,” said Carol Barfield, chair of the county’s Democratic Executive Committee, who helped promote the event. “Walk equally, Love equally, and Live equally!”

Included among the hand-drawn signs were two beautifully drawn caricatures created earlier by Melanie Humble - of George Floyd, whose death last month in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the hands of police sparked the nationwide protests, and of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed man who was shot and killed in Brunswick, Georgia in February in a confrontation with residents who alleged he had burglarized a home under construction in the neighborhood.

The first protest to surface in the city took place on Friday evening downtown, as 25-year-old Peyton Aubin started off as a lone protester, carrying a Black Lives Matter sign at the intersection of U.S. 98 and Market Street.

He was soon joined by Adria Valenzuela and her sister Ali, both college students in Columbus, Ohio, their younger brother Nico, a high school student in Port St. Joe, and their parents, Apalachicola residents Luis and Marcy Valenzuela.

The gathering grew with the arrival of Apalachicola residents Rosa Tolliver, Myrtis Wynn and Kyle Bouington, an engineering student in college, and later Netta Hayward, Delores Croom and a smattering of others. Several drivers honked in support of the gathering, with few if any evidencing hostility.

“We live in our little bubble here in Apalachicola,” said Aubin. “And we forget about what’s going on in the rest of the world, and that we do care here in Apalachicola.

“I’m just trying to speak up because I didn’t see anybody else doing it,” he said, holding aloft a handmade sign affixed to the back of a kayak paddle.

“We were getting together to do it and we saw him and we said ‘let’s go,’” said Hayward.

A much larger gathering is slated for this Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m. at the corner of Market Street and U.S. 98 in downtown Apalachicola.

Sponsored by H’COLA (Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola), the event is billed as a “peaceful protest rally,” with the poster reading “Join H’COLA in leading the stand against police brutality, inequality and racism.”

Protesters are encouraged to wear masks and to exercise social distancing, and to bring their own signs, although campaign signs, hats and clothing are not welcome.

After the protest winds down at noon, Smith is hosting a “Unity in the Community” lunch, at The Game Room on 8th Street and Avenue J, where his office will be cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for the public.

“Please come out, ask questions and express thoughts concerning law enforcement,” reads the announcement. “This is a time to help keep our community safe and strong, together!”

To reach H’COLA, call 323-0544 or visit www.hcola.org