Protest Aims To Keep Up Momentum For Change

Protesters Jasper Araujo, Katie Wood and Tyler Diaz display handmade signs.

Months into the Black Lives Matter street marches and social media movement that has swept the nation, Wellington continues to be home to one of Palm Beach County’s ongoing peaceful protests, which happen every Saturday afternoon at the intersection of Forest Hill Blvd. and State Road 7.

The protests are smaller than they were, and the weather is hotter, but men and women of varying races continue to brave the unavoidable summer heat, standing on the busy, southwest corner and holding signs that demand an end to unjust police brutality against Black Americans, as an endless line of traffic whizzes by one of the Palm Beach County’s busiest intersections.

Wellington’s role in the national movement can be dated back to a video that went viral on the social media platform TikTok in early June, showing a confrontation between Wellington resident Shane Meyers, standing on a street corner near the Olympia neighborhood holding a homemade sign which read, “Black Lives [expletive] Matter!!” A passerby objected to his one-man protest. Viewers watched the woman say, “I don’t want to be driving and have bullets shot at me because they’re upset because you started it.”

Once Meyers’ video went viral, it wasn’t long before he was joined in his protest by a small army of supporters. Black Lives Matter activists later held a rally in front of Wellington Village Hall, and twice took turns explaining to the Wellington Village Council how difficult it can be to be Black in Wellington. A June march from Okeeheelee Park to SR 7 led to an hours-long standoff with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

Since then, the number of protesters has dwindled, but every Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., drivers and onlookers can still witness a faithful few sporting signs calling for justice.

They call themselves Freedom Fighters 4 Justice, and while their goal surpasses mere protesting to enacting positive change for African Americans in the community and at large, they still find themselves — signs in hand — ready to show passersby that racial inequality still exists.

“This is one of the busiest inter

sections in Wellington, and Wellington is predominantly White,” said Dominique Gray, a member of the group. “So, I would think that we’re here because we want to show that the issue is not just in neighboring cities; the issue is here, as well.”

According to the group’s Facebook page, its mission is to build allies and foster strong relationships within the community. By seeking out and speaking with local authorities, group members are already taking steps toward community change.

Wellington resident Kyla Edme is a founding member of Freedom Fighters 4 Justice. She stressed that she doesn’t expect her goals to be reached overnight.

“We’re going to be trying to link with the right people and the right organizations that are going to help us get those long-term changes that we want to see,” Edme said. “And so, we understand that this is going to be a process. This is a marathon; this is definitely not a sprint.”

Regardless of the efforts the group is making the other six days of the week, members find that continuing their Saturday afternoon intersection protests is still a necessity.

“People here tend to think of racial tensions and Black Lives Matter and police brutality as a separate issue than their lives,” said Jasper Araujo, another protester at the intersection last Saturday. “They think that because we live in Wellington — it’s more of an upper-class area with gated communities — that these issues don’t matter, that they don’t affect them, when it affects Black people everywhere, no matter where you are.”

Araujo explained that because of its more-affluent, predominantly White demographic, most Wellington residents have not had run-ins with racial injustice, so it could be easy for them to see the movement as mere “politics” that don’t concern them.

“We want to bring awareness to this more residential area where people may think that they’re exempt from politics, so to speak, when it’s not politics — it’s people’s lives,” Araujo said. “This issue affects everybody, no matter where they live, so we need to be showing support everywhere.”

Along the way, they’ve had unpleasant experiences with drivers who don’t appreciate their presence at the intersection.

“We’ve had pesticides sprayed at us, and drinks thrown at us, and racial slurs and threats to let animals loose on us. So, I mean, it’s right here in Wellington,” Edme said. “If you told me that it’s not here, explain all of that then.”

Tyler Diaz has spent time on the street corner as well, holding a sign that reads “White Silence Is Violence.” Diaz is in an interracial marriage and said he protests, in part, for his children, who would be identified as Black.

“For me, it’s about making sure they can grow up in an America where they’re not at risk just because of the fact that their skin color isn’t the same as mine, and that they have equal opportunity and equal safety as everybody in America should have,” Diaz said. “Until Black people are treated the same as White people in America, we’re going to keep fighting.”

Edme likewise said she is part of Freedom Fighters 4 Justice for both her family and all families of color.

“I have to worry about my husband when he goes out of the house. I have to worry about my children, who I’m raising around here, and I don’t want them to turn into another statistic of police brutality,” Edme said. “That’s why I get out here and do this.”

The past few months have brought movement on the issue, and they want to keep it going.

“There’s real change and real momentum that we’re seeing across the nation, even internationally, right now,” Edme said. “I feel like it would be irresponsible not to capitalize on that, and use your voice, and use what power you have to try and make a difference.”

In the midst of both small victories and exhausting opposition, Edme said she plans to continue the fight against racial injustice because of the importance of the cause.

“My life matters, my children’s lives matter, my family’s lives matter; we’re all Black,” Edme said. “And for all the people who want to say ‘all lives matter,’ all lives matter won’t matter until Black lives matter.”

To learn more about Freedom Fighters 4 Justice, find the group on Facebook.