For more than a month, hundreds of people in Yakima and Selah have put on masks and braved the ongoing pandemic to join others protesting across the country.
Through protests and vigils, people are speaking out against racism and police brutality, and fighting for the rights of Black people, the LGTBQ community, and people of color. These crowds feature people from many different backgrounds, all with their own reasons for joining the movement. The New York Times estimates there have been more than 4,700 demonstrations nationwide, or an average of 140 a day, since Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd was killed by police on May 25.
Starting the weekend of May 30-31, multiple protests and demonstrations have taken place in Yakima County each week. Protesters have gathered in downtown Yakima and at Nob Hill and Fair Avenue near Fiesta Foods. More recently, protests have moved to the Selah Civic Center and Selah City Hall, after opposition by some Selah city officials.
Here’s a closer look at four Yakima protesters committed to speaking out, and what inspires them to keep protesting.
The first Pride event in Selah last Tuesday night meant a little something extra for Camilla Fuzie, especially after organizer Jose Rocha asked her to speak.
Fuzie came out as gay to her family and friends at the age of 12, but she didn’t have an opportunity to go to a local Pride event until 2015. Now the 20-year-old Yakima native attends every event she can to fight for the rights of others.
“Straight, gay, white, Black, whatever, I think that’s really, really important and really valuable that Selah and Yakima and all the surrounding communities come together,” Fuzie said. “It’s been a part of my life for a long time, but I don’t think it’s been a part of my community life as a person of Yakima for a long time.”
The recent support for Black Lives Matter caught her a bit by surprise, encouraging her to learn more about the history of marginalized groups. She shared some of her research with the crowd last week by passionately praising the minorities in the LGBTQ community who organized the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
“The fact is that I know who fought for my right to protest in the Stonewall Riots and that’s why I’m here,” Fuzie said. “It’s my turn.”
She emphasized the need to amplify marginalized voices on social media and donate to organizations fighting for social justice. Those efforts tie in with Fuzie’s desire to put in work on the ground, meeting and talking to new people from different backgrounds with different perspectives.
“It feels empowering,” said Fuzie, who is transferring from Yakima Valley College to Western Washington this fall. “It feels important and I think that we have a lot of work to do but we are taking the first steps right now and I’m really glad that I can be a part of that.”
J.P. Boyd knows all about the importance of setting a strong example for his kids.
He grew up in Vancouver, Washington, as the son of two gay women, although he admits he didn’t fully understand what that meant until he was 12. Even though he rebelled against them and experienced bullying from other kids because of his family, Boyd learned valuable lessons he carries with him as an activist in Yakima.
“I tell my kids, ‘I’m doing this for you guys because things can change,’” Boyd said. “The way they won’t change is if people remain silent. So not only is this about police brutality, this is about government accountability.”
As the father of a 19-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 10-year-old, it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. That’s why he spoke at Selah’s first Black Lives Matter march June 6, and again at the city’s first Pride event June 30.
In between, he’s been attending other events in Selah and Yakima, speaking out against those in power and for equality. The 41-year-old said he has always felt lots of love from the LGBTQ community and he loves seeing the diversity at recent protests.
“This isn’t about race,” Boyd said. “It’s not Blacks versus whites. It’s about everybody versus racism and bigotry and hate.”
He’s also passionate about the need for a “social awakening” after what he sees as hundreds of years of oppression. Boyd doesn’t shy away from calling out those in power, whether that means the government or large corporations with powerful lobbyists that influence public policy.
“People are tired of the injustice, tired of police brutality, tired of a governing system which preys on its citizens instead of helping them,” Boyd said. “I want to see more drug treatment, more family counselors, family crisis counselors. I want to see more people helped in poverty.”
He’s ready to keep fighting for all of that, no matter how long it takes.
When Courtney Hernandez saw more than 150 people show up to the first protest she organized in Selah to support the Black Lives Matter movement, she nearly cried.
The Selah native often felt like no one cared about her struggle growing up as one of the only Black students in her classes. Although her popularity as a talented student-athlete in volleyball, basketball and track insulated her at times, she still saw how teachers seemed to label her initially and other students would treat her differently.
“There were two Courtneys at the school in my grade and they called her ‘White Courtney’ and me ‘Black Courtney,’” Hernandez said. “People would always say, ‘Oh, she’s only good (in sports) because she’s Black.’ Things like that.”
Those revelations surprised even some of her closest friends recently when they talked to Hernandez about what compelled her to march against racism in Selah. The 28-year-old said she became much more outspoken through experiences as a student at the University of Washington, a traveler to Ghana, and a part-time resident of Costa Rica.
So when she returned to live and teach in Yakima, it only made sense for Hernandez to take the lead in planning Selah protests and demonstrations. Some notable public opposition only made her more determined to make her voice heard.
“I think it’s just really important to spread knowledge here in Selah because a lot of people here in Selah tend to tell everyone else, ‘Oh, it’s such a great little family town,’ but really not everyone is accepted here,” Hernandez said. “People are treated differently here and only certain people are given opportunities.”
She has also been frustrated to see some critics only connect Selah’s events with the official Black Lives Matter organization. Although Hernandez certainly isn’t against BLM, she doesn’t think it’s fair to assume local protesters share all the same views.
“We’re not that,” Hernandez said. “We don’t have our own chapter. We’re just a group of people who care about Black lives and think that they matter and think that police brutality needs to stop.”
Even with progressive parents who tried to instill strong moral values and the importance of equality, Morgan Meehan admits she lacked awareness of injustice in the world while growing up in Cheney.
That began to change at Cheney High School, where Meehan recalls forming strengthening friendships with other girls in marching band through discussions of some of America’s troubling issues. So when she read a newspaper story about protests for George Floyd and social justice last month, Meehan knew she needed to take action.
Her first step was reaching out to Jose Rocha, a longtime activist and Selah resident. Meehan, a 25-year-old who moved to Yakima in 2018, began attending several local events and felt especially drawn to Selah, where controversy swirled around City Administrator Don Wayman’s public objections to Black Lives Matter.
“I’m just here to help with the community and just to try to better our community in many ways,” Meehan said at Selah’s Pride rally last Tuesday, when a group of about 30 marched from the Civic Center to Selah City Hall. “It just seems like Selah, it just feels more like where I need to be.”
She works full-time in health care but tries to support the cause and spread its message in her free time. Through Rocha, Meehan met organizer Courtney Hernandez and quickly became one of the planners for the group’s ongoing events in Selah.
“I love seeing all the people,” said Meehan, adding the protests are drawing more attention and support. “It’s great.”
Reach Luke Thompson at email@example.com and on Twitter: @luketscribe