When I came out to protest the police killing of George Floyd, I was hurting. I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream, and I wanted to break stuff.
I arrived downtown and saw kids I know from my neighborhood gathering on a stoop at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design on North Prince Street, across the street from the protest crowds, so I joined them. It was obvious everyone was hurting. That pain didn’t stop everyone in the crowd from doing their best to build everyone else up. They tried to make everyone feel loved, appreciated and heard.
After listening to the words of my many neighbors who expressed their pain with such passion, I started to think back on how this community has influenced me. I started to reflect on the past years and the anger left from my childhood trauma of having grown up in a biracial family.
My ancestors on my father’s side settled in Lancaster directly from bondage. My mother’s family is from the South and has active Ku Klux Klan members. My mother never had us visit that side of my family, so Lancaster has always been my home.
The kids in the crowd of protesters mostly live in my neighborhood. Now 27, I have watched them grow up; I always encourage them to educate themselves, improve themselves and not make the same mistakes I have. I wanted to see them make it out of here and move on to a better place, because I never really thought about the potential our city had to become great.
Many of our small shops and restaurants are owned and operated by immigrants who have become part of our neighborhoods. Many have been victims of oppression themselves, and they see us for how we are on the inside.
I met a young man, Nyzair Dixon, on the protest front line who inspired me to believe we could change the entire world’s perception of us. Nyzair’s ancestors settled here with my family and a few others — the descendants of those families could be found scattered throughout the crowds each day of the protests.
Nyzair and some of the kids from the stoop found two makeshift explosives and were able to have them removed safely without either being detonated — true heroes. Many of the kids on the stoop never show their faces and they go by nicknames; none of them are there for recognition. Like I said, they’re heroes, there to change the world.
They walk people home; they check the area for makeshift explosive devices; they collect bricks placed strategically amid the crowds by agitators; they collect trash at the end of the night. They bring fresh food, water and clothes to our brothers and sisters who have no homes and so sleep in Binns Park. When the city workers pull up to empty the trash cans, the kids help them.
Then they lock arms and the chants of “No justice, no peace” echo through the streets, even as agitators who seem to be white supremacists try to terrorize the crowd.
During the day, we march for miles, chanting in unison. We never get tired. We never become short of breath. It’s as if we are fueled by the love of our ancestors.
I’ve seen young black brothers who have hated each other for years set aside their differences and embrace each other in the street. I’ve listened as a beautiful young black woman took the mic for the first time and told a personal, tragic story that moved my heart and left the entire crowd in tears. I’ve met men and women I’ve known for less than two weeks whom I now consider family.
There has been a lot of coverage of the protests during the day but often we stay out as late as 3 or 4 a.m. What I’ve witnessed on West Chestnut Street right in front of the police station after the sun sets has changed who I am fundamentally as a person.
People drive by and spit on us as we chant in unison. They hurl racial slurs out vehicle windows and threaten to run us over; some have tried, and one SUV did drive into the crowd, injuring several protesters.
When an incendiary device went off on North Prince Street the night of June 1, everyone jumped and people ran in every direction. As I stood and looked around me, all the kids from my neighborhood were surveying the crowd, making sure everyone was OK. Never have I seen such bravery in real life.
Kind people drop off supplies of all kinds and many times simply drop off bags in the grass in Art Park on North Prince Street or by the steps near the police station for whomever needs a snack or drink.
They’re well-intended, but those unmarked bags cause anxiety, as I wonder if they mean I’m in my final minutes on Earth, with no chance to ever hug my mom again. It’s hard to describe the feeling in your chest when opening an unattended backpack, not knowing whether it contains makeshift explosives. I never thought I would experience that. Even worse is that the beautiful, brave kids from my neighborhood now must live with knowing how that feels. They’ve learned to check bushes for explosives and bricks, to search out other instruments of destruction left by agitators.
People in Lancaster city will never look at a group of kids on the stoop the same again. I just wish the world could know them how we do. I have a renewed pride in my city to the point that I no longer hope these kids make it out. I believe in them to make our city better.
Dylan Scott Davis is a resident of Lancaster city.