‘Begging for my life to be recognized:’ Calls for change at Black Lives Matter demonstration in Shawnee

Protesters took to Shawnee city hall for a Black Lives Matter demonstration in June. One protester's sign read "Let us breathe."

About 150 demonstrators gathered outside Shawnee City Hall Saturday as protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd continued around the Kansas City metropolitan area and the country.

Organizers Anna Schmidt and Ryan Gentry, both white 19-year-old Shawnee residents, said the local protest was intended as a way for Johnson County’s predominantly white population to actively support the black community.

“It’s nice to be able to post on social media and donate money, but to be able to come out and physically show our support, I think it goes a lot further in showing that support,” Gentry said. “Plus, in a majority white community, bringing people together to talk about it is super important because a lot of people here have no experience for that.”

The two-and-a-half hour protest remained peaceful and drew no response from law enforcement. Protesters chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “say his name: George Floyd,” “say her name: Breonna Taylor,” “no justice, no peace,” and more. While most Johnson Drive traffic honked in support of the protest, a couple of passersby yelled “all lives matter” in response to the demonstration. Protesters peacefully disagreed, one of whom told a passerby that all lives can’t matter until black lives matter.

Speaker Julian Kuffour, a Shawnee Mission Northwest alumnus, asked the crowd what they will do to materialize their support for black lives.

After a march around the block, protesters gathered in the parking lot to hear Shawnee Mission Northwest alumnus Julian Kuffour’s speech. Kuffour said as a young black man, it’s tiring to “assert the basic tenets of my humanity and the humanity of other black lives.” Additionally, he said it seems black lives only matter when they’re already dead, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and only then do they get “rest from this tiring black life.”

“Y’all, I’m tired and I’m not having fun,” Kuffour said. “It’s summer and I’m not at the pool or chilling inside watching some T.V. I’m outside in the one million degree heat begging for my life to be recognized.”

Kuffour urged protesters to materialize their performative social media posts and other advocacy into financial support for black people. Other ways to materialize support include calling out racist remarks, such as non-black people using the “n-word.”

He also called for the abolition of police, and said while it may seem to be an impossible demand, the abolition of slavery and segregation also seemed like impossible demands at one point in time.

“There is indeed no justice and no peace until there are no more police,” Kuffour said. “The funding that goes toward riot shields and rubber bullets can be spent addressing issues like health care gaps, homelessness and lack of community-based educational programs.”

Other solutions to the problem include voting, Kuffour said, though it is just one piece of the puzzle to structural reform. Protester Wairimu Mbogori, a 19-year-old Shawnee resident, said voting for people who will do something about police brutality is the way to ignite change.

Proteser Wairimu Mbogori holds a sign that reads “Respect existence or expect resistance” at the Shawnee protest.

Mbogori has attended several protests in the Kansas City area over the last week, and at a City Market protest Friday she and her brother set up a booth to help people register to vote, she said. The Shawnee protest was important for Mbogori to attend to inform the community that racism occurs in Kansas, too, despite what some may think, she said.

Other protesters, like Dave Roeder and Ann Morton, showed up to the Shawnee protest on behalf of their daughter, a SM Northwest alumnus. Roeder said he and Morton have been upset with what’s going on, and wanted to support police reform while furthering the Black Lives Matter movement.

Roeder said protests raise awareness and keep things in front of public officials’ eyes, which might inspire them to think about necessary changes. Dave Heller, a Lenexa resident who attended the protest with his wife and two teenage daughters to be allies, shared similar sentiments about how to bring about change.

“I think it’s going to take either our leadership moving, or a mass movement, and hopefully the mass movement will move our leadership,” Heller said.

Organizers handed out a list of places to donate to — including a link to register to vote, found here — as well as a QR code with links to actions and education on allyship. The QR code can be found here, and the provided donation information is as follows:

A separate Stand Up for Black Lives rally is planned for Prairie Village this Wednesday.