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Dozens join together at Huntsville's Big Spring Park for a unity gathering

The event, brought about through a partnership between registered nurse Fredrick Richardson and the City of Huntsville, saw several speakers come to the platform outside of the Huntsville Museum of Art.

Posted: Jun 12, 2020 11:37 PM
Updated: Jun 15, 2020 8:24 AM

After a week with various protests and marches and a more than two-hour long listening session during Thursday's city council meeting, dozens gathered in Big Spring Park for what organizers called a "unity gathering."

The event, brought about through a partnership between registered nurse Fredrick Richardson and the City of Huntsville, saw several speakers come to the platform outside of the Huntsville Museum of Art. 

Members of Huntsville Police stand alongside other community members during a nearly nine-minute moment of silence, marking the time that an ex-Minneapolis Police officer had his knee on George Floyd's neck. Members of Huntsville Police stand alongside other community members during a nearly nine-minute moment of silence, marking the time that an ex-Minneapolis Police officer had his knee on George Floyd's neck.

Richardson said the gathering was designed to bring a multitude of different types of voices together to really start a dialogue. 

"When we're talking about equality, we're talking about love, love for humanity, for our fellow humans," said pastor Shey Crockett, on of the many people in the audience.

Crockett came to support fellow pastor, Debleaire Snell, both of whom preach at the First Seventh Day Adventists Church. He said he was also there to be a part of Friday's moment because of its core message.

"From my vantage point, the only way unity is going to happen is if a supernatural power comes in and makes it happen for us or with us," Crockett said.

The gathering was marked by speakers along with a rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" and a nearly nine-minute moment of silence, reflecting the time an ex-Minneapolis police officer had his knee on George Floyd's neck.

Several members of the Huntsville Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff's Office were among the crowd listening to the series of speakers. Among them were Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray an Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner.

Captain Dewayne McCarver, one of the officers featured in a video series from Huntsville Police on social media responding to the killing of Floyd, said that he was glad that he was at Friday's gathering.

"I felt a real sense of unity. I felt like everybody who was out here certainly had the best interests of the people in mind," McCarver said. "The organizer, when he spoke, I was really impressed with his vision. He spoke to me personally. He made me feel like this is something that I wanted to be a part of."

He said that there is work to be done throughout the community to move forward and that Huntsville Police are committed to helping to bring about positive change.

"For the first time in a long time, the police, our ears are open and we're looking at really making the changes that people want because at the end of the day, we represent this community. And if some of these things are what really need to be done, we need to do them," McCarver said.

Around halfway through the permitted event, most of the crowd marched down Dr. Joseph E Lowery Boulevard. At that point, a smaller group who was also in the original crowd broke off, chanting "No apology, no unity." That group booed Huntsville Councilman Will Culver during his address to the audience.

"Our group was there Wednesday and we arrived today hoping for an apology of some sorts, maybe an acknowledgement from local leadership that what they had done was wrong. They refused and danced around that every step of the way. After that, we we're just kind of fed up," said Joshua Roberts, part of the group that broke off.

When asked if there was a specific group Roberts represented, he said there wasn't any particular brand.

"My group consists of Huntsville citizens that wish to end police brutality. We do not have a cohesive name. There are many subgroups. We just want the world to be a better place and we will not stand for this to happen in Huntsville," Roberts said.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who also attended the event and was one of its speakers, said that between Friday's unity gathering and Thursday's city council meeting, for the city, this week was about listening.

"Next week, we'll be laying out some plans, what has happened and what will happen in the future. And in next week, you know, the whole time, we're trying to go through the healing process too. As a community, we've got to do that," Battle said.

Next Thursday, Chief McMurray will present his after-action review of recent protest events during a special session of city council.

As the community moves forward, those gathered on Friday are looking at multiple angles of how to make things more equitable. One of the speakers, Dr. Martha Dawson, president of the National Black Nurses Association, called for a need to add more black people into the health care industry.

"When we talk about STEM, you need that foundation to enter into health care. And so we need to be developing, encouraging and pushing more of our younger people into health care," Dawson said.

As people left peacefully from Big Spring Park Friday evening, Crockett noted that he hopes this conversation drives positive change.

"We've still got a long way to go and the same energy that we've had up to this point, as we continue this marathon, it's going to be a marathon, we've got to keep that same energy moving forward," Crockett said.

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