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'We're in this until Black lives matter': Local activist group looks to continue demonstrations

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BLM Aiken Movement

Makenzie Johnson, one of the BLM Aiken Movement organizers, leads Thursday march down The Alley in downtown Aiken. 

The Black Lives Matter Aiken Movement marched and chanted in downtown Aiken on Thursday evening in an effort to continue the momentum in the fight against racial injustice. 

Around 7 p.m., roughly 30 marchers met at the Newberry Street fountain near The Alley.

Signs in hand, they continued down The Alley, around to Richland Avenue, down Laurens Street, looped around to Park Avenue and back down The Alley. 

The activism group looks to continue holding protests and marches in the Aiken area weekly, said Makenzie Johnson, one of the BLM Aiken Movement organizers. 

"Until we see justice and injustices being undone, we’re going to be here," Johnson said. "If it takes weekly demonstrations, that’s what we’re going to do with our voices as a community reminding people that Black lives matter. We’ve only just begun." 

The organization has held several peaceful demonstrations in the Aiken area following the national outcry against police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  

A demonstration at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center on June 6 drew hundreds who waved signs along Whiskey Road. 

The following day, BLM Aiken Movement hosted a child-led march through downtown Aiken with crowds chanting messages of peace and equality. 

'Out of the mouths of babes': Children lead march against racial injustice through downtown Aiken

A more recent march on June 20 paraded through downtown and included Ahmaud Arbery's mother as a guest speaker. 

Thursday's march welcomed returning marchers like Susan Harrison who said she looks forward to attending the BLM Aiken Movement's marches each week. 

“There’s still injustice,” Harrison said. “I want to see justice for everybody. Yes, I understand that it is Black lives matter and of course our lives do matter but this is about anybody and everybody to understand that we need to come together as a whole to get justice for those who have been wronged.”

Johnson said she's always excited to see new participants at the marches. 

Jean McGuire and Joel Curatolo attended their first BLM Aiken Movement march together on Thursday. Both felt it's necessary to continue marches against racial injustice and for the movement not to "fizzle out."

“So many times there’ve been protests for one thing or another and then it’s died out,” McGuire said. “I lived in L.A. during the Rodney King riots and we thought something was going to change then and it just fizzled. We’ve had enough fizzling. Something needs to change. It’s not going to change unless people keep pressure on it and be visible.”

In 1992 King, a Black motorist, was assault by area police officers. 

A video showed officers repeatedly striking, kicking and using a stun gun on King, even after he was on the ground, the Associated Press reported.

Riots erupted after four white police officers involved were acquitted. 

The BLM Aiken Movement hopes to tap into momentum created by demonstrations and marches across the nation to create meaningful change, Johnson said. 

Announced prior to Thursday's march was an action plan created by several primarily Black organizations in Aiken County. 

The plan, submitted to city leaders in both Aiken and North Augusta on June 26, includes recommendations on how to solve systematic racism with a variety of areas that impact daily lives including within the justice system to housing to law enforcement and employment. 

BLM Aiken Movement looks to follow Thursday's march with a community clean up day on Saturday. 

From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., volunteers will pick up litter from the Laurens Street area spanning Hampton Avenue to Union Baptist Road. Volunteers are asked to park in the Aiken Housing Authority parking lot located at 100 Rodgers Terrace N.W. 

Volunteers are encouraged to wear masks and to practice social distancing. Trash bags and gloves will be provided. 

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