Optimism bubbles over at Powell protest

JIM FISCHER
editorial@thisweeknews.com
Powell resident Amy Fastrich participates in a June 2 protest outside the Powell Municipal Building. The gathering was dubbed the "Peaceful Protest Against Police Brutality" and featured speakers, a moment of silence and a march.

Hundreds of residents gathered June 2 in Powell to support Black Lives Matter in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

The local protest, titled "Peaceful Protest Against Police Brutality" in flyers posted online, began at 5 p.m. outside the Municipal Building and the Powell Police Department. A slate of speakers, both organized and impromptu, was followed by a moment of silence in remembrance of Floyd and a march around the city center that ended back at the Municipal Building.

The event grew from informal discussions on social media, said Powell resident Jessica Greenwald, one of the protest's organizers.

"We all pretty much met through Facebook," Greenwald said. "A few of us had proposed some kind of a protest in Powell, and that helped take the ideas and bring them about."

Greenwald, a 2018 Olentangy Liberty High School graduate, said she hoped to bring attention to a national issue but also to bring awareness to the ways racism exists in smaller communities such as Powell.

"My experiences in high school specifically opened up my eyes to some of the racism that does exist in the community,” she said. “Not to say that everyone is racist, but that there are ways it goes unnoticed and unseen.”

"I love Powell, but it's not the most diverse place,” she said. “We call it the ‘Powell bubble,’ and that's an affectionate nickname for some. The bubble can seem safe and comfortable at times, but we can expand it.

“I think that, (June 2), we showed that, within our bubble, we can be willing to learn and unite.

"The point of the rally was to say it's important for us to no longer say we're OK with an unfortunate truth," she said. "I also wanted to provide a safe space for people of color to tell us what we need to do to help them."

Fellow 2018 Liberty graduate Drew Collins spoke during the event.

"The concept of the Powell bubble is real. I think popping that bubble was an important idea," Collins said, explaining why he attended and decided to speak.

"My father grew up in Biloxi in the 1950s, and I've always heard stories of the things he saw and the people,” he said. “It always felt fitting I would take part in something like this.”

Collins spoke of some of the experiences he has had with racism, both open and subtle, as an African American growing up in Powell.

"In middle school, there was a time when, every morning, I was having to explain my existence to a bunch of white kids. I was called ‘n------’ by classmates. This community made me question my identity and I would always wonder what I could do about it," Collins said.

Emlah Tubuo, a Powell resident and owner of Powell Pharmacy on Presidential Parkway, said it was important for the community to acknowledge things that are happening in other places. That was one of the reasons she attended and chose to speak at the rally.

"We can't sit quiet while the rest of the country is hurting," Tubuo said.

She said her message to those in attendance was about sustainability.

"If we do this (rally) and we go home and then we stay quiet ... We need this idea to continue on," she said.

Both Greenwald and Tubuo said the protest was not specifically directed at the Powell Police Department. Greenwald thanked officers for being present and helping to keep the event safe.

"Our police department is filled with compassionate officers,” she said. “The chief was right there, ready to help.”

"It was an incredible experience, the way the community rallied together around this issue and presented a message of hope," police chief Stephen Hrytzik said. "I've been a police officer for 29 years and I've never experienced something like this."

Hrytzik acknowledged that organizers communicated their plans with the department and that his hope was to "allow an opportunity for voices to be heard and to keep everyone safe."

He also said the broader message of the event -- which he estimated drew a crowd of 500 or more -- is not lost on him.

"I spent as much time as I could just listening and looking, and there were things that did affect me," he said. "I know how we treat people in this department, and I believe the vast majority of officers respect their communities. But it does give me pause, seeing a sign that says 'Am I next,' knowing that there's a person who might not see me as someone who will keep them safe. I saw it. I heard it."

"I was incredibly proud of Powell yesterday, of the feeling in the crowd, the solidarity with all ages, all races," city councilwoman Heather Karr said. "Just from a participant's standpoint, it's a credit to the organizers and the police department and city staff."

"We all live in the bubble. There were a lot of Liberty High School students who showed up to call for change. To have these kids who are protected say we see this and we want to be part of a change ... it's a weird word to use for a protest, but it's uplifting."

"I think a lot of education took place around how to make change, how to write to government officials, the importance of voting, where and how to donate," Greenwald said. "As allies, one of the most important things we can do is to learn."

"It's a beginning," Collins said. "I feel like there's a long while to go, but to have so much involvement here, from people of all races ... If this area can come together and work on understanding one another as human beings.”

editorial@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNews