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Despite Mixed Reactions, White Activists Feel They Have A Role In Black Lives Matter


The phrase Black Lives Matter has grown from a social media hashtag into a national movement. And while the campaign is led largely by African-Americans, there are some whites who urge other whites to take a stand. Jake Ryan from member station WFPL in Louisville has the story.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Black lives matter. Black lives matter.

JAKE RYAN, BYLINE: A crowd of about 200 people packed into the sliver of shade near the entrance to the Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters. The crowd is chanting and reciting hundreds of names of people killed this year by police across the country.



UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shalamar Longer.




RYAN: The gathering is one of hundreds that have been held in many American cities since the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. This one, though, looks a bit different. It was organized by a group of white people.

CARLA WALLACE: It is incompatible to think that democracy can allow for the targeting of black and brown communities. And it's time for those of us who are white to step up and understand that our own humanity is connected to that.

RYAN: Carlo Wallace is one of the organizers. She leads the local group, Showing Up For Racial Justice.

WALLACE: And we will increasingly be getting more and more white people to say this is about all of us. This is about what kind of community and country we want to live in.

RYAN: Brandon McCormack is a professor at the University of Louisville. He says he's been to several local rallies around racial justice issues, but this is his first lead by white people.

BRANDON MCCORMACK: I wanted to come out today to support our white brothers and sisters who are out here showing up for black lives so that black people don't simply bear the burden of having to be our own advocates.

RYAN: McCormack says it's encouraging to see white people out in front of a protest for racial equality. But not everyone feels that way.

TAYLOR LITTLE: I don't think white people necessarily have a voice in the Black Lives Matter movement.

RYAN: That's Taylor Little with Louisville's chapter of Black Lives Matter.

LITTLE: I believe the voice of that movement should be of the black lives who are continually oppressed and victimized by police. But I definitely do think they have the responsibility of spreading our message to other people, especially to white people so that it is easier for us to get this problem hopefully one day solved.

RYAN: Little says it's best for white people to move away from the foreground and just listen.

LITTLE: Listen to black people when they're speaking. Listen to black people when they're sharing their own personal stories instead of, like, running to another white person being like, whoa, what's going on? Like, how do I help? Like, what do they mean?

RYAN: Back at the rally, local Black Lives Matter activists are here just on the perimeter as Carla Wallace calls out for people to return borrowed signs that read black lives matter and end white silence.

WALLACE: Please bring them over here. Please bring your signs back.

RYAN: It's a troubling truth, she says, that these protest signs must be recycled for future use.

WALLACE: We're going to have to go through a period of struggle in this community, and that is uncomfortable, especially for those of us who are white. But it is necessary.

RYAN: Wallace has been an activist for nearly four decades. And she says she hasn't heard from any African-Americans telling her to back off. But while some contend this isn't necessarily her fight, she's not going to stop. She says peace won't come without justice and equality for everyone. For NPR News, I'm Jake Ryan in Louisville.

SIMON: And tomorrow on Weekend Edition Sunday, a discussion about a new Texas law that allows licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns on the campuses at the state's public universities. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.