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Protests Spread To Columbus Suburbs: 'You Are Elite People That Can Make Change'

Protesters kneel at the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington on June 3, 2020.
Clare Roth
Protesters kneel at the Kingsdale Shopping Center in Upper Arlington on June 3, 2020.

Protests have come to the suburbs of Columbus. At noon Wednesday, hundreds gathered in the parking lot of the Kingsdale Shopping Center, in front of the blue-tiled building that once held a Lazarus department store. 

The mostly-white crowd looked on as Sumia Mohamed told the story of how her family came to America from Sudan.

"I came to Upper Arlington purposefully," Mohamed said, "seeking for peace and justice, and to be a normal human, not Black – American."

But Mohamed said that didn’t happen, at least not immediately. Mohamed says police followed her husband around the suburb for a month before accepting that he, in fact, lived in the neighborhood.

That incident prompted her to get involved in community organizations.

"What I know about you, Upper Arlington people, is you will never be silent for that," Mohamed said. "You have the power in this country, you are elite people that can make change. You can be a part of the change. Please don’t be silent."

Other speakers, like Anisah Awad, took a less conciliatory tone.

"The fact of the matter is there’s a 99% white population in Upper Arlington," Awad said. "And we don’t want you moving. We don’t want you gentrifying other places. But we want you here, active, checking your white neighbors that are bigots."

Laura Harold Johnson agrees. She’s helps run a group for families of color in Upper Arlington, and says white suburbanites have an important role to play.

Protesters raise their fists in solidarity at a protest in Upper Arlington on June 3, 2020.
Credit Clare Roth / WOSU
Protesters raise their fists in solidarity at a protest in Upper Arlington on June 3, 2020.

She planned Wednesday's protest in conjunction with organizers downtown, and she wants it to be educational. She says there’s a lot of misunderstanding among suburbanites about the nature of the downtown demonstrations.

"So we thought that bringing in to the suburbs would help show that it is in fact peaceful protesting and that we can gather in solidarity and show our support, and that this is an issue that suburbs need to stand up for and come to the table for," Harold Johnson said.

Harold Johnson wants her neighbors to realize that words are not enough.

"I mean, yes, it is very wealthy and views itself as very progressive and liberal," she said. "And so we need to bring that connection to people that you can be progressive and liberal and you have to show up for these causes, and when you’re not speaking out you’re part of the problem."

Mohamed believes the suburbs are a critical place for the movement to take hold, and she has faith they’ll step up to the plate

"This amount of white people coming out? It’s not a few people, in Upper Arlington," Mohamed said. "So yes, I feel that the change will happen. But it’s important for all the people, white people specifically, to stand by each other and to stand by the black people. They know that there is a problem, so they can make a change. This is where the window of opportunity could be open."

Mohamed’s neighbors, pushing strollers and carrying signs that read “Justice For George Floyd,” and “White Silence Is Violence" marched out of the parking lot onto Upper Arlington’s streets, hoping to prove her right.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.