Peaceful protest leads to forums, dialogue within community

Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 8, 2020

Saturday’s peaceful protest in Danville to bring attention to racial inequality was a success according to Cheryl Burton, one of the organizers of the event. This was the second peaceful protest in the city within the week, and Burton estimates that more people attended this one than the first.

“It was wonderful. I think there were probably more people out than there was Tuesday,” Burton said. “I think it was perfect. Everybody spoke and people received the speakers well.”

Terri Graves is another organizer of the event, and she said the support from the community is important.

“The amount of support the community has shown to us is amazing, and that’s what we want to see; people united and coming together to try to make a change in our community,” Graves said.

The protest began with a march through downtown Danville, which began in front of city hall. Protesters marched in the right lane of traffic along Main Street, turning right onto Second Street by Constitution Square, and then turning onto East Walnut Street and Third Street. Lastly, the group turned left and the march stopped at the Boyle County Courthouse, where a stage was set up and speakers addressed the crowd gathered there.

As protesters marched and chanted slogans including “Black Lives Matter,” along with the names of recent victims of crimes against black people, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, traffic stopped and many in their vehicles honked their horns and cheered in support.

Once the march reached the courthouse, speakers included event organizers, as well as local pastors, and the audience made up of black and white members of the community listened intently, cheering and chanting during the messages.

Burton estimated that about 400 people took part in Saturday’s march. No other protests are planned at this time, but Burton said several events are planned, including one that will take place at the Pioneer Playhouse amphitheater this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. She said this is the first of a group of planned community forums to allow people to share their concerns and have their voices heard. This week’s event will feature local elected officials, and Burton said city and county officials have been invited to attend.

“It’s so the community can come out and hear what they have to say, and have a dialogue. We’re trying to mend relationships and also end racism in our community,” Burton said.

Graves added that members of the community have been working with some local officials.

“We’ve talked to the police chief, the mayor, the city manager, and they all seem to be on board and are willing to make changes with us, to come up together and come up with plans,” Graves said. “The forums will give anybody in the community with any questions, any concerns, a chance to come and talk to those officials. That’s what we need, is community support and community input. If they really don’t know what we want, then they don’t know how to go about making changes or moving things in a positive light. As long as they come and participate and ask questions about any concerns they may have, I think it will be awesome, actually.”

Other community forums will focus on areas such as banking and healthcare, according to Burton.

“Each week we will try to do another one, with local banks, so people know what their stance is, what they offer to our community, then the hospital, the school board, we want to get everybody out there so people know who everybody is and have dialogue,” she said. “Black people have a hard time getting loans from Farmers National Bank. People go there and try to get loans and they can’t, and they even have good credit scores. I know one lady who had equity in her home, and she couldn’t get a $1,500 loan, and she had a 700 and something credit score.”

Burton said representatives from Liberty Bank, a Louisville-based bank that is black owned, is willing to come to town and speak with people here about the issues they face.

Greg Caudill, CEO of Farmers National Bank of Danville, said he has never heard the complaints Burton referenced.

“We have never heard the first complaint in that regard. Nobody has ever brought that to our attention, and it is just patently untrue,” he said, adding that representatives of the bank would be glad to be included in any forum to discuss community concerns.

Burton said healthcare and jobs are both concerns for members of the local black community, and she pointed out issues with Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. She added that EMRMC will be the focus of a future community forum, and that representatives would be invited to share in dialogue.

“When it comes to patient care, there are a lot of blacks that get on social media and complain when they go there that they aren’t treated properly. There are a lot of inequalities with Ephraim’s hiring practices. They need to look at that,” she said.

“It can be feedback for them, diversity training, things like that that can maybe help.

We know that we can apply for a job just like everybody else. We don’t want to just be a number, you know, like we have to have this many black people on our payroll,” Graves said. “We want the same shot as everybody else and it be fair and equal. If I’m just as qualified as the next person, or maybe even higher qualified, we shouldn’t not be looked at because of our race. I’ve applied for several jobs and they’ll tell me I’m overqualified for a position, but I feel like that’s a reason for them not to hire me, but that’s them being nice.”

Ephraim McDowell issued the following statement in response to the accusations of racial inequality.

“Ephraim McDowell Health is committed to helping people live healthier through quality health care, trusting relationships, and providing value to the people we serve. We serve our entire community regardless of race, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, disability, or ability to pay. These are the principles that guide us every day whether it be in treating patients, hiring new associates, or retaining existing associates,” said Dan McKay, president & CEO of Ephraim McDowell Health.

Burton said Main Street businesses are another concern.

“We want to speak with Main Street businesses, because black people don’t feel like they can go in those stores without being watched. We’re just wanting to make some changes to our community for the better,” Burton added.

Graves said she feels the voices of the black community are being heard from these protests, and she added that’s important.

“We don’t want it to die down and we don’t want it to stop,” Graves said. “Protesting is a way people can come out and support one another and show support for people.”

She said more events will be planned, including some to invite people who may have moved away from Danville to come back and share their feelings and experiences.

“We’re just looking for positivity, to send positive vibes that can come back and help in the community. Not necessarily a protest, but just community get-togethers,” Graves said.