Photos by Matt Choquette
The “unity demonstration” that had been officially canceled last week happened anyway, thanks to a ragtag group of ardent supporters that didn’t want to “let the moment pass.”
The group, which was least 75 percent white, numbered to about fifty persons standing or sitting and holding signs in solidarity.
Jennifer Jones, who’s lived in Sapulpa for the last five years, was planning to attend the initial rally, but when it was canceled, she didn’t give up hope in trying to get something done; in fact, what she saw made her resolve even stronger.
“In the last week, it became clear that there is some very deep-seated racism in Sapulpa,” speaking about some of the comments on the original event’s Facebook Page. Graphics with words like “All Lives Splatter” and threats of running over protesters led Van Burkhead to cancel the event out of fear for the demonstrator’s safety.
Jones says that story isn’t the whole truth, and that the decision was made public without the group’s consent.
“They wanted to move us to where we couldn’t be seen, and to move it back a week. They had a week. We were inviting them here, to give them something to say.”
Burkhead confirmed to Sapulpa Times on Friday that the decision to cancel was his and his alone. “I did that. It was my decision,” he said.
Even so, the event still happened, and Jones said the group was there to protest racism, but not to blame the local police. “You can be against racism and at the same time support law enforcement. It’s not us versus them, that’s why we invited them.”
Patrice Marshall, known as “Coach BaBa,” is one of the organizers of the new vision for this movement.
A born-and-raised Sapulpa Chieftain, Marshall graduated in 1990 and she was part of the coaching staff that led the Lady Chieftains to the 1998 championship.
She was planning to be a part of the original event, but when it fell through, she stepped in to take a more active role. “This is just the first step,” she said.
Cars honked in support as they drove by, and Marshall smiled. “I love it!” She said.
Jones and Marshall both say they hope they’re able to sit down with city leaders in the future to discuss the racial disparity in the local business community, and how they as a city can begin to overcome the challenges they’ve seen.