The death of George Floyd hit me incredibly hard. For me, it was the breaking point of years of unjust and racist treatment toward Black people. I wanted to do something. I wanted my voice, and other voices, to be heard, but I quickly realized that there weren’t any peaceful protests or demonstrations planned in my community. After some thought, I woke up the morning of May 29–four days after George Floyd was killed–and decided to organize a march myself.
In less than 24-hours, I organized a march and demonstration for my community in Dekalb, Ill. With COVID-19 measures, including a mask requirement, strongly enforced, the day of the event, hundreds of people showed up either on foot or in their cars. I was beyond surprised to find that the Facebook event I created had inspired so many people to participate. Community members donated water bottles, gift cards for food, and pizzas for everyone who came to the march. This event made a lasting impact and it inspired me to continue my community activism throughout the summer. This experience encouraged me to attend city council and town hall meetings. I am now, proudly, the founder of the Black Lives Matter chapter in DeKalb.
My desire to do even more pushed me to look for opportunities where I could continue working for social justice. During my research, I came across an AmeriCorps opportunity at the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center in Denver, Colo., serving in the VISTA program. The center’s mission–to recount the stories and lives of Black Americans that were fundamental in the development of the West–spoke to me. It was exactly what I was looking for: the opportunity to serve in social justice while also working to preserve the history and legacy of Black people.
In my role at the center, my priority is capacity building. I take inventory of museum artifacts and historical photographs, while also helping to develop museum literature and research and planning for future exhibits. Right now, researching important Black and African American people and organizations that helped develop the West has been one of my favorite parts of service.
My service has opened my eyes to Black history in the West, as well as my Black consciousness. This impact has inspired me to seek a master’s degree in museum studies after my service year so I can continue to help strengthen access to education in Black communities across the country.
Vivian Meade is an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center as a Volunteer Recruitment and Community Outreach Coordinator. She earned her BA in Spanish Language and Literature with a minor in Latino and Latin American Studies from Northern Illinois University.