Know this: protests in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement calling for an end to police violence haven’t stopped. Even as media coverage has waned (or shifted) and trending hashtags have decreased since mass protests first broke out across all 50 states in May, the movement isn’t on pause. The work is ongoing.
Reggie Watkins is fighting to make these facts known. As the co-founder of the Valley of Change — a community outreach non-profit based in the Los Angeles Valley — Watkins has been in the streets daily. He has no intention of letting up, either. And he’s pressing white allies for the same commitment.
“My main goal in getting out here was to get my son involved in activism,” he explains. “But my second goal is to keep white people involved in this movement. I want to let them know and let them see that racism is their fight. They’re the ones that have to stand up and say ‘enough is enough,’ they are the majority of this country. I’ll be there with them to say ‘Yo, I’ll fight this with you if you continue to stand up and say something for me.'”
Watkins started Valley of Change with co-founder Latora Green and a small team of activists who met on the corner of Sepulveda and Ventura in the city of Sherman Oaks, California. Inspired by his 16-year-old son’s growing interest in the Black Lives Matter movement, Watkins just wanted to find a safe place where his son could protest without fear of the police. But the sense of community he found inspired him to stay involved and start building a more formal organization.
“My son basically plays basketball and Call of Duty in his room all day,” he says. “He never talks about these things. So it was amazing to hear him ask questions about racism and how to change people’s minds, and why people feel certain ways. I met Latora Green, and a young high school girl named Shilah, and it grew from there.”
When Watkins came upon the cluster of protestors, there was little organization among them. Most of the people standing with signs seemed to be quietly doing their own thing. Watkins quickly started engaging with people, introducing himself and learning everyone’s story. Starting an organization was a direct response to the needs he identified through these encounters.
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This is Shy. She is one of our core team organizers and she just graduated high school during a pandemic. She is a wise youth activist who was one of the first people to start protesting on the little corner of Big change with a homemade sign and a strong will to DO SOMETHING in response to the brutal murder of #GeorgeFloyd. Like @gretathunberg and @mikiiya.cheyanne, Shy is part of a generation that simply refuses to back down in the face of injustice. She is STRONG. She is BRAVE. And she should NOT have to fight for the right to LIVE. But, she is. And WE are fighting for HER and the entire BIPOC community to be able to live and breathe freely while playing on a playground or wearing a hoodie holding Skittles and an Arizona Green tea, or driving with a broken tail light, or eating ice cream at home or going for a run or walking home after volunteering with shelter animals or sleeping in their beds. LIVING while Black should NOT be a Crime, but from the actions of law enforcement and the criminal justice system in our unjust world today, it is. Thanks to freedom fighters like Shy, we are going to create a NEW world where that reality is a distant memory of the past. We love and appreciate you, @_s_h_y_s_h_y and we won’t stop till we plant the seeds of a better world for you and the seven generations that follow. 💥 🌏 ✨ 🖤 ✊🏿 ✊🏾 ✊🏽 #blacklivesmatter #blmla #blmprotest #breonnataylor #georgefloyd #ahmaudarbery #defundthepolice #nojusticenopeace #democracy #peacefulprotest #LA #shermanoaks #robertfuller #rayshardbrooks #tonymcdade #riahmilton #dominiquefells #valleyofchange #justiceforbreonnataylor #justiceforelijahweatherspoon #justiceforelijahmcclain #justiceforkendrickjohnson #justiceforandresguardado #justiceforvanessaguillen #justiceforcoltenboushie #justicefortamlahorsford #VOTE 📸: @kylark
“The next day I showed up, somebody gave me a bullhorn,” he says. “Then the next day a friend suggested I start an Instagram and came up with the name ‘Valley of Change.’ By the third day, we met our social media manager, Kyla Garcia, after she showed up from some other protest and just started chanting with us, and really leading the charge. We formed an organization, started getting donations, and now we’re buying tents, and tables and food and meeting up with other organizations based in the Valley.”
Watkins is set to host and moderate a virtual town hall with his city council this month. His story is a reminder that community action often begins with chance meetings on street corners and can be quickly and efficiently built into something bigger. It’s a matter of seeing what the local community needs, where the gaps are, and responding with a plan. In the early going, that plan can be as simple as a mission statement.
“Our mantra is ‘Do something every day,'” he says of the fledgling organization. “We are out there with our protest signs every day. It doesn’t matter if there is one, two, three, four, or five people, we will be there because we care. Standing up and holding a sign, inspiring uncomfortable conversations.”
Renowned festival photographer Eric Allen was on-site at one of Valley of Change’s recent actions. His photos offer a visual reminder that people are still in the streets — masks on — standing up for change.
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The people who consciously and unconsciously enforce global systems of oppression intentionally turn marginalized communities against each other. They do this to DISTRACT us from rising up TOGETHER against the oppressor. Rip the seed they have planted in your mind out by the ROOT; let’s continue to, RISE, RISE, RISE! 💥💥💥REMEMBER and RESIST as we start WEEK 8 OF OUR DAILY PEACEFUL PROTESTS! The people UNITED can never be defeated! 💥 🌏 ✨ 🖤 ✊🏿 ✊🏾 ✊🏽 #blacklivesmatter #blmla #blmprotest #breonnataylor #georgefloyd #ahmaudarbery #defundthepolice #nojusticenopeace #democracy #peacefulprotest #LA #shermanoaks #robertfuller #rayshardbrooks #tonymcdade #riahmilton #dominiquefells #valleyofchange #justiceforbreonnataylor #justiceforelijahweatherspoon #justiceforelijahmcclain #justiceforkendrickjohnson #justiceforandresguardado #justiceforvanessaguillen #justiceforcoltenboushie #justicefortamlahorsford #VOTE 📸: @kylark