Several hundred demonstrators, mostly educators and students, marched Friday afternoon from the Arkansas State Capitol to a nearby mural on West 7th Street in Little Rock. The mural was painted four years ago by Jose Hernandez and Jermaine Gibson to cover graffiti on large concrete walls that support two railroad overpasses.
During the past week, the face of George Floyd was added to the mural, which features civil rights icons like the Little Rock Nine, Daisy Bates, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and symbols of peace. Floyd’s death on May 25 while being detained by police in Minneapolis has sparked protests around the world, including many throughout Arkansas.
Johnny Laine helped organize the march, saying the message of social justice being heard in the aftermath of Floyd’s death also needs to be heard in schools. As marchers arrived at the mural, he asked them to lay flowers in front of the image of Floyd, and "as you walk up, I want you to look this man in the face and ask yourself, did he have to die?"
Laine then called for a moment of silence, "for every victim of social injustice here in America and right here in Little Rock and Arkansas."
Amid the familiar chants of "black lives matter," "no justice, no peace," and "I can’t breathe," were young people chanting "black students matter."
It was the seventh day of demonstrations in Little Rock, which included 79 people being arrested on Tuesday. None were arrested at Friday’s march, with police vehicles clearing a path for protesters and blocking traffic as speakers took turns speaking to the crowd with megaphones.
Recent Bryant High School graduate Daylon Land, who plans to attend Morehouse College in the fall, shared his experiences of being a black honors student in a predominantly white school. Land said he eventually became "comfortable being uncomfortable" in an environment where he was treated differently than other students.
"There’s been times I’ve missed a lesson and I asked my peers, 'what did we learn yesterday,' and they didn’t want to share the information," Land said.
He also spoke of having only one black teacher during his four years in high school, arguing that schools need to diversify their staffs to include people who can serve as role models and instill confidence to students of different races.
Demonstrations are expected to continue through the weekend. Little Rock’s curfew was shifted Friday to begin later at 10 p.m., rather than 8 p.m. Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. says it will be completed lifted on Monday.