Hundreds of people marched and rallied downtown Saturday as speeches and chants called for expanding health care, voting rights and other steps participants said would improve the lives of North Carolina’s children.
Systematic oppression, poverty and racism is hard for “any of us” to endure, said the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the N.C. NAACP, at the 13th annual HKonJ People’s Assembly and Moral March on Raleigh.
“But when children have to endure it, it robs them of their vitality, snatches their protection away, and stunts their growth forever,” he said. “Look around you, coalition partners. Do we want any of these beautiful children of ours to be rendered invisible? If not, then there is plenty of work for us to do. This is not a time for us to stand down now. We must stand strong and endure on behalf of the children.”
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About 13 years ago, speakers said, 14 people met in Goldsboro to start the movement which has come to be known as HKonJ for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, which is where the General Assembly meets. Saturday’s event was sponsored by the state NAACP.
The HKonJ People’s Assembly Coalition includes 125 NAACP branches, youth councils, and college chapters from across the state and members of over 200 other organizations, according to the state NAACP.
Cypriane Jacobs, 20, of Fuquay-Varina, said the march unifies many fighting for different steps toward social justice.
“Our voices are going to be heard,” she said, even if some state legislators don’t want to listen.
People started gathering early Saturday morning at the corner of Wilmington and South streets near Shaw University for a 9 a.m. rally, followed by a 10 a.m. march that snaked through downtown to a stage set up at Morgan and Fayetteville streets in front of the state Capitol building.
Over the years, the coalition has fought for a number of issues, including higher wages, better health care for all, more funds for public education, criminal justice reform, voting rights, and end to gerrymandering, The News & Observer reported.
On Saturday the crowd chanted, sang and cheered as speakers and signs urged those attending to continue the fight for those and other issues — including immigration reform and rights for LGBTQ people — with children in mind.
The Rev. William J. Barber II, former state NAACP president and founder of the national Poor People’s Campaign, said any society that carries out policies that hurt families and children is a failed society.
Thousands of North Carolina children are homeless, Barber said. Others don’t have health insurance, or have parents who work multiple jobs but still don’t make a living wage.
The fight has to continue, Barber said, as North Carolina’s actions have inspired others.
“I need to know that y’all ain’t going to quit,” Barber said. “We can’t turn around. We can’t stand down. We can’t stop because it doesn’t have to be this way. We must fight until the children are well.”
The march and rally ended around noon Saturday, but some of those who attended stayed downtown for a 1:30 p.m. protest of the Confederate monuments at the state Capitol.
The monuments on the Capitol grounds include the 1895 Confederate monument, the Henry Lawson Wyatt monument, which depicts the first Confederate soldier to die in battle, and the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy monument, The News & Observer has reported.
About 30 people gathered for the rally organized by Smash Racism Raleigh. The coalition is made up of N.C. State University students, many of whom are involved in the Young Democratic Socialists of America, said organizer Skye McCollum.
The goal of this and future protests is to raise awareness about the memorials and pressure state leaders to take them down, McCollum said.