It’s been a little more than a year since Amiyah Spencer stood in the Baker Park bandshell, crying as she watched the rain-soaked marchers pour in.

She was a sophomore in high school then, and — along with a handful of other young Black activists — she’d thrown the first Frederick March for Justice together in a matter of days. Consumed with grief and rage after the murder of George Floyd, she’d expected a decent turnout.

But Spencer didn’t realize just how many thousands of people had shown up to follow her through the streets of downtown until she reached the end of the route. And it was overwhelming.

“It showed that we weren’t alone,” she recalled.

For Black organizers across the county, the 12 months since that gray June afternoon have been a turbulent swirl of emotion, swinging from hope to anguish and back again. They can identify nuggets of positive change — talking about racism at work or in school is a little easier than it once was, some said, and more people and businesses are taking first steps toward addressing their biases.

Yet despite the progress, a common refrain permeated their reflections: The work is far from finished.

“I still see — clear as day — systematic racism. I still see economic disparity,” said Aje Hill, founder of the local youth development nonprofit I Believe in Me. “I’m not letting anyone off the hook.”

From Black business collectives to food distribution programs to trauma support for kids of color, the activists’ efforts continue, even as the general public’s presence at rallies has dwindled since last summer’s boom. Their efforts are exhausting, many activists said, and often painful.

But they’re refusing to stop.

“This fight continues,” Spencer said. “This isn’t something that’s resolved overnight.”

*****

Across Frederick County — largely rural, historically conservative and more than 80 percent white — “there’s been a lot more dialogue” this year about the issues of race and equity than Shana Knight can ever remember.

In the wake of Floyd’s murder, Knight rallied together a handful of Black community leaders and entrepreneurs. Together, they started Soul Street, a collective aimed at empowering Black-owned businesses.

Knight — who has lived in Frederick since she was a middle-schooler — wanted the county’s Black children to see people who looked like them “be bosses,” she said. And with the spotlight on racism in America, she figured the community would be receptive to the efforts.

But she didn’t quite anticipate the depth of the support they’d receive. For the first pop-up market Soul Street hosted on July 4, 2020, featuring Black-owned vendors and small businesses, scores of people lined up around Sky Stage. They braved 100-degree heat, and they were patient with stringent coronavirus restrictions.

Subsequent Soul Street markets have seen equally impressive turnout, Knight added.

“It makes us feel better about the situation,” she said. “It’s one of the things that has given me a lot of hope over this last year that we’re somewhat moving in the right direction.”

The events of the past year have brought about difficult, honest conversations about racism, Knight said — and they’re becoming more common at work, at school and among friends.

For Spencer, the difference is evident in her classes at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School. She’s long been seen as a “loud-mouth, only-wants-to-talk-politics kind of girl,” she said, and since grade school she’s been learning from a Black grandmother who grew up in South Carolina in the early 1960s.

Now, Spencer feels like her classmates and community are starting to catch up.

“Over the last year, people have been forced to see exactly what I’ve always been talking about,” she said. “I’ve had people — even a lot of my white peers — confront a lot of biases that their families and their parents and uncles and aunts have had.”

Still, Hill, of I Believe in Me, characterized what he’s seen as “small changes” — subtle shifts in behavior and perception and an increased willingness to participate in inherently uncomfortable discussions.

And “understanding and listening is just the beginning of the race,” he said.

*****

Frederick March for Justice was hastily formed last year, born out of a group chat filled with equal parts anger and energy. Organizers planned the demonstration in five frenzied days. When it was over, they took a week to relax and reflect.

Then, they started planning for the next one.

A year later, they’ve morphed from a spur-of-the-moment coalition into an organized group with regular meetings and specialized commissions. They’ve met with city and county officials and law enforcement officers, and they’re pursuing a host of changes, from education to police reform to diversifying hiring in county government.

“There’s definitely more that needs to be done, and that can be done,” said March for Justice leader Akiyyah Billups. “We need elected officials, people in positions of power and leadership, to definitely take the reins to make sure that impact continues, that the momentum continues.”

The list of changes Frederick’s Black organizers want to see is long and wide in scope. Among other efforts, Billups said, she’s working on improving the community’s relationship with the police and hoping to collaborate with the Frederick Police Department’s newly formed Multicultural Liaison Unit.

For Hill, a lack of youth support centers is one of the county’s biggest unmet needs. Growing up, he said, he had access to such places, and they served as a valuable haven for struggling kids.

“If you ride around Frederick County on a Friday night at 9 o’clock, tell me a building that’s open where these kids can go and feel safe, and feel loved, and have nutrition and laughter,” he said. “Nowhere.”

He’s also fighting for more affordable housing in the area, which he said would make the city more accessible to people of color.

Knight, meanwhile, said she focuses on businesses’ day-to-day treatment of Black employees.

“If you go to any website for a company or an organization, you’ll see a [diversity] statement,” she said. “But you want to look beyond that — what are they doing beyond just posting the statement? … Are they practicing what they’re preaching?”

*****

Kristen Lundy was heartened by the droves of demonstrators who turned up at marches across Frederick last summer. But the memory makes it all the more frustrating to see less than 30 show up for similar events now.

As the intensity of public outrage over Floyd’s death slowly faded — and as graphic videos of Black people dying gradually disappeared from social media timelines — Lundy,  the founder of the advocacy group Frederick United, said attendance at events she planned dwindled, too.

“When we weren’t watching the killings happening on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all over the news — and it wasn’t a fad to support Black Lives Matter — allies kind of fell back a little bit,” she said.

But there’s a dedicated group of community members whose engagement never wavered, Lundy said. And while she takes solace in the relationships she’s formed with them, she said, they’re all suffering the effects of exhaustion.

That’s something Billups sees first-hand. She’s become something of a shepherd for the middle school, high school and college students she oversees.

“We’re a family now,” she said.

When the kids are having a tough time, she said, they come to her house. She’s become the de-facto college recommendation writer. And she tries to protect their mental health, even as she encourages them to recount painful experiences of racism and bias in their fight for change.

“We live these experiences daily,” she said. “And then fighting for justice daily, standing up, being a voice — it’s very emotionally and psychologically taxing.”

*****

On a recent sunny Saturday, Spencer stood in front of a crowd gathered at Mullinix Park, once again holding back tears after finishing a March for Justice.

The group was much smaller at this year’s event. But this time, Spencer was watching Mayor Michael O’Connor read a proclamation honoring her work and establishing an annual March for Justice Day in Frederick. Michael Hughes — the county’s equity and inclusion officer — did the same for the county.

A transplant from upstate New York, Spencer recalls her first impression of Frederick County. It seemed like a quiet, country place, she said — the kind of place where people avoided uncomfortable conversations at all costs.

Until last year, she said, that perception largely stayed intact.

“I hadn’t really believed that this was something that a town like Frederick could get involved in,” she said. “I had always felt like it was a long shot.”

Two Saturdays ago, though, she grinned proudly from beneath a pavilion, standing arm-in-arm with Billups and other March for Justice volunteers. She looked out at her mayor and at her neighbors.

“What we’re doing won’t be forgotten,” she said.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek

(70) comments

Greg F

I am one of those who tries to be as even handed as possible, but when you go to Walmart and two little black kids in a cart chant white power at you, it makes you wonder…was just in passing on an isle and they kept on repeating it as I went by anonymously and they would have no reason to say that, with a parent there that seems to have an agenda of assuming everyone is against them. Doesn’t help your cause.

Maybe those comments weren’t meant for you? Now I would probably know they weren’t meant for me…. I try not to take anyone’s comments seriously, well because they don’t really know me, nor did those children really know you. They were simply expressing an opinion they hold of NPOC. Hopefully you showed them they have the incorrect opinion of you?

shiftless88

For the Frednecks who think this is all in the past, keep this in mind (from the 2017 WaPost). Note that Frederick County is one of only four MD counties that have laws that override that. Systemic racism is alive in well here today. "Under Maryland law, landlords and property owners can discriminate against an individual on the basis of his or her source of income, including money from any lawful employment and any government assistance, such as Housing Choice. This willful blindness to a framework of law perpetuates and excuses discrimination against low-income people."

phydeaux994

Seems like it’s the Lead Racist doing all the commenting with a couple of new sub-Racists feeding his ego to keep up the Hate and Anger. It’s OK for hundreds of Domestic Terrorist Racists carrying Confederate Flags and constructing gallows to hang VP Pence and storming and vandalizing and looting the Nations Capitol to support White Supremacists but let some folks in Frederick Maryland Protest 400 years of Black enslavement and oppression and discrimination and those people are the most Evil, Criminal, Lowlife in the Country. How dare they fight for the Equality for All guaranteed by the Constitution and the American way!!!

Yes Phy you are spot on and hit the nail on the head...which is why we need to keep track of our comments today....because well some people identify way to much with them and they get their feelings all hurt and then poof our comments our gone...so

correction:

because well some people identify way TOO much with them

C.D.Reid

Yeah, yeah, yeah fido. [yawn] Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz................

See Butch if you want to pretend that our comments are irrelevant to you, then maybe pretend you didn’t see them? But when you make a comment below our comment we assume that you see our comments as relevant to you… does that make sense? What I’m saying is just ignore our comments.., after all they aren’t relevant to you, so you don’t want us assuming the incorrect things about you? Right?

phydeaux994

👍

olefool

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

jth7100

Sevenstones, you knew with the article title alone, a certain element would be in the comments section immediately.

Hayduke2

Amazing to see the bubble they live in and the ongoing bromance where they have to support each other to feel relevant...

Yeah it is and on the bright side if you think about it and they are certainly aware of it, their relevance as NPOC is becoming less relevant everyday...so yeah if patting each other on the back helps them feel relevant......?

Butch why is it you always assume we are talking about you? I guess if the shoe fits...? Or I guess if you can see yourself in my words.....means I am using accurate words at least to your eyes...so

C.D.Reid

Where did I indicate that I thought you were talking about me, Snowy? I just asked you a couple of questions. Seems to me you're the one doing the assuming here.

Butch yeah my bad 😥, I am the one doing the assuming? But aren’t you also assuming that I and NMP aren’t in contact? 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️

C.D.Reid

Comprehension, Snowy, comprehension. You wrote "so yeah if patting each other on the back helps them feel relevant." and I replied with "Feeling a little let down, or even deserted, now that he's not here to back you up?" Whether or not you're in contact with NMP, he hasn't been here to pat you on your back to make you feel relevant. Understand now, or do I need to paint it more in the black and white that you people love so much?

Butch it is odd that comment made you think of me and NMP? You think about us often, don’t you? That’s sweet…..

I know me and NMP are living rent free in your head….but isn’t time you set us free?

But on the bright side...and I do tend to look on the bright side of things..is that this article will get a lot of views/clicks....not only from the certain elements these type of articles seemed to attract like flies to poo...but from other elements like those of us that are awfully proud of these young people. Today they march, tomorrow they will lead us. It's cool to see leaders born.

sevenstones1000

I see the “best of Frederick” are commenting today! Dear old Fredneck never changes. Good luck, kids.

jth7100

The headline alone was bound to set off certain commenters here.

Awteam2021

Gramps, “struggle” would be a better fit for several of the commenters here. They are struggling with the changing culture. Right? And not winning.

AOC

"The BLM March in Frederick was the largest protest ever held in the city."

No way!

Awteam2021

Way!

Jthomas515

It’s refreshing to have a smiling face in a photo that represents this location movement. I still have a lot of questions about BLM organization, but I do see a wound that needs to be healed in the black community. I see the smile as hope.

Reader1954

what exactly is critical race theory?

shiftless88

There are entire books on this. It has been discussed for decades. Educate your self by reading these books.

shiftless88

Here ya go, Reader. Since I am guessing from your handle you like to read, this should be interesting and educational for you! https://www.amazon.com/Critical-Race-Theory-Third-Introduction/dp/147980276X

mmfr55

Time to cancel this rag woke joke paper

marinick1

[smile][smile][thumbup][thumbup] I'm ready to do just that, mmfr55, especially after this article.

mmfr55

I keep it just to watch CD slap these jokers around

C.D.Reid

Thank you for the compliment, mmfr55. [thumbup]

Hayduke2

Wow, talk about delusional...

olefool

It's properly called "mudslinging" mmfr55, just so you know.

Hayduke2

Bye!

Hayduke2

Bye!

Dwasserba

Bye

C.D.Reid

One thing's for sure, promoting that "Critical Race Theory" garbage isn't doing race relations in this country one bit of good. If anything, it's only serving to make the racial situation in this country all the more divisive. That's why almost half the states have either banned it from being taught, or are in the process of doing so. Parents right across the river in Loudon Co. are up in arms against it.

shiftless88

I would bet ten dollars you could not speak accurately and without notes for five minutes about critical race theory.

C.D.Reid

Can you, shift, without reading it off the Internet?

shiftless88

I think so. But I am not the one publicly criticizing it. If I do not know anything about something, I generally try refrain from publicly criticizing it.

C.D.Reid

So, you "generally try to refrain from publicly criticizing" topics of which you know nothing. Which tells me that you don't always succeed in doing that. And here you're criticizing me for commenting on a subject which I'm familiar with simply because you're assuming I don't know anything about it. Well, go right ahead, shift, because when you assume you only make an @$$ out of u, not me.

shiftless88

No, CD, it means that I am aware that while I THINK I may know something, I am still learning and sometimes I find that I have made an error. At which time I apologize for my error and ignorance and seek to learn more.

shiftless88

And CD, it is interesting that you never then answered the question but instead sought to divert.

Greg F

Is baiting all you can do?

ParAvion

This is a now-common misconception. Because it's a strictly LEGAL theory, Critical Race Theory is only being taught in law school. The laws that you refer to that legislate against teaching "Critical Race Theory" are vaguely-worded smokescreens that allow state governments (and by proxy) the local citizenry to suppress...really anything that makes them uncomfortable about the history/science/literature of race and racism in the United States. Look into it!

Hayduke2

ParAvion - stop making sense and pointing out the facts without adding fear or misinformation.

Dwasserba

[thumbup]Hayduke2

Greg F

Keep trying…some day you may accidentally say something intelligent….maybe in a few decades.

gramps

“The fight”… interesting choice of words. I thought these were peaceful people.

bnick467

Even peaceful people will fight back when attacked, gramps.

gramps

I didn’t realize these people were attacked?? Must have missed that article.

marinick1

Exactly, gramps. [thumbup][thumbup]

C.D.Reid

The rabble rousers who paraded through Frederick with no permits last year, disrupted traffic both in town and out on I-70, spray painted graffiti on private property, disturbed the peace shouting into bull horns, and intimidated outdoor diners by screaming at them while demanding those diners acknowledge their "cause" were not attacked. They were non peaceful people who were doing the attacking.

Awteam2021

CD, are you referring to the March these kids organized on June 5th, 2020? Click on the photo at end of this article: Protesters brave heavy rain, thunderstorm to March for Justice in Frederick on Friday. It doesn’t describe anything that you are fuming. That may have happened at other times but not this one ☝️.

C.D.Reid

Aw, I'm referring to the march(es) where the incidents I mentioned did occur, whatever the date(s) were. Don't make it complicated.

Awteam2021

Cd, Just asking, seeing your rant has nothing to do with these kids or the March this article is referring to. I hope that’s not to complex for you. I hope you wouldn’t want to misinform readers. If you are wrapping any protest or protester as all the same, just say so. Don’t mislead.🤷‍♂️

marinick1

What attacks? Total nonsense,

C.D.Reid

According to the hypocrisy of the Left, it all depends on who is using the term. If a conservative is, like Trump did when he spoke Jan. 6th, it's a "call for insurrection." But when liberals use it, like in the videos that Trump's lawyers showed at his second "impeachment" trial, it's perfectly legitimate.

shiftless88

When it is said by a President who has vast public speaking experience and he is standing in front of a crowd he has invited to the Capital to stop the vote, versus a young adult sitting in an interview with a newspaper, I can see how they are different. Perhaps you just don't get it? Context matters a lot in language, as you likely know but conveniently ignore.

marinick1

[thumbup][thumbup]C.D.Reid is spot on, again. [smile]

C.D.Reid

Shift, I wasn't talking about the president using the word "fight" vs some local "activists" using it. Did you see the videos Trump's lawyers presented in that second farce of an impeachment? Did you see in those videos all the Dimocrats who have used the same word in calls they've made for activism which they've supported? Trump used it in exactly the same context, as in EXACTLY the same context, as they did which was why his defense was so brilliantly presented. And for you to post a reply to me such as you did only further illustrates that well known Leftist hypocrisy.

shiftless88

So then why are you commenting on this article that has nothing to do with Trump or Democrat congress members???

Awteam2021

CD, are you saying you pay the fnp to make irrelevant comments? That’s special 😳.

ParAvion

If you stop feeding the trolls, they'll eventually crawl back under their bridges, folks.

Greg F

There’s a bridge somewhere missing it’s troll.

Awteam2021

Aw, It’s called a metaphor.🤦‍♂️

gramps

Maybe struggle would have been a more appropriate term?? But hey that doesn’t fit the narrative now does it?

Awteam2021

Gramps, No, “fight” is a better fit, where as “struggle” suggest you’re losing, and that’s not the case at all.

The BLM March in Frederick was the largest protest ever held in the city. Over 7,800 people marched peacefully. There was a moment when all 7,800 marchers took a knee in a moment of silence. There was not one incident. They even cleaned up after themselves. But most importantly over 80% of the participants were ‘Whites’ of all ages, marching in support. And the community was overwhelmingly supportive. That’s winning the “fight”.

Greg F

Trump used fight…where were you then?

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