When Cassandra Berry saw the video of George Floyd’s death in May, she wanted to get involved in the protests against racial injustice, but with COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, she was hesitant to take to the streets — so she took to the web instead.
As a community organizer and co-chair of the Denton Together Coalition, Berry wanted to create a dialogue around racism and give voice to those affected by it. Rather than venturing out amid the pandemic, Berry decided to take the discussion online.
The first session of “Virtual Peaceful Protest and Conversation” was June 7. Community leaders including Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon, County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, and attorney and city councilman Jesse Davis participated in a live Facebook discussion on the George Floyd killing, police brutality and creating racial harmony.
While that conversation was originally created as a standalone discussion, Berry decided to continue hosting virtual talks to promote dialogue around race in Denton.
“It was my way of hosting a discussion virtually because, with COVID-19, I did not feel comfortable going out and participating in the live protests,” Berry said. “A lot of those were going on, so I thought a way that I could give voice to people and have a conversation that will help move the agenda forward as it relates to any policy reviews and changes would be in the form of a virtual format. That event turned out pretty successfully being the first time to do it, and it kind of motivated me to do additional ones.”
Discussions since then have focused on racial equity in education and, this past Sunday, on Black and Latino men’s experiences with racism. Featuring community leaders and activists, the virtual meetings are a forum for what Berry said are much-needed conversations on how to create change.
Sheryl English, who is the chair of the Denton Housing Authority and has participated in several discussions, said she thinks connecting through the virtual protests has helped participants process what the Black community has been going through.
“Hopefully for some people, the feedback and the conversations have been helpful because some people, you know, it has eased their pain just to be able to see people have that conversation or even be a part of the panel,” English said.
While some of the virtual protests may have been cathartic for panelists, Berry said they have also generated a lot of interest among the Denton community. Questions come in through Facebook comments and, after the discussion ends, Berry asks panelists to answer questions in writing to be posted on the Denton Together Coalition website. The process helps community members take a deep dive into the issues and promotes an ongoing dialogue beyond the live talks, Berry said.
Roxanne Del Rio, chair of the Denton Together Coalition, said the exchanges help foster understanding among community members.
“What you think you know you really don’t until you hear from the voices of the people that are experiencing it, so you’re going to get a perspective that perhaps you’ve never thought about before,” Del Rio said.
Rather than being separate from the live protests, the panels have sometimes included community members who have been active in the marches in Denton. Local rapper and activist Chris “AV” Avant participated in Sunday’s discussion.
English feels the talks offer another level of accountability to in-person protests.
“It’s fine and good to protest, but what happens after that?” English said. “What is the plan? To get anything changed and implemented, we have to have these conversations.
“The marches definitely got people’s attention and so it’s like, ‘What is it you want to implement, and where can we go from here?’”
Future discussion topics include white allyship, white parents raising Black children, and the Black Lives Matter movement. Berry said she plans to keep hosting the forums through the end of 2020.
“I think it’s important to keep the conversation going,” Berry said. “It’s important for people to dialogue with one another and keep this at the forefront. I think that’s going to, you know, allow us to gain some momentum and some positive changes [to] occur.”
Berry creates Facebook events for each of the virtual conversations which are shared on the Denton Together Coalition’s Facebook page.