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In St. Pete, Black men celebrate victories: “We are everything but a rally or a protest”

The 2.5 mile “victory march” promoted unity and strength within the city's Black community.

ST. PETERSBURG — Rapper Lil Baby’s The Bigger Picture blared from a boombox on wheels as about 15 people marched through the city.

“It’s bigger than black and white / It’s a problem with the whole way of life / It can’t change overnight / But we gotta start somewhere.”

The Atlanta rapper’s two-minute protest anthem played over and over — at least 10 times, maybe more — as the group of about 15 Black men, women and children marched 2.5 miles down 18th Avenue S.

The second annual “100-plus Black Men Victory Walk & Rally” was intended to unite the community, specifically local Black men, said one of the organizers, Marques Clark.

Last year’s march focused on stopping teen shootings, said Clark, who established the event with two friends. This year, the message shifted to promoting unity and strength within St. Petersburg’s Black community, Clark said.

“So many times, we only rally or march when something negative happens,” he said.

“We are everything but a rally or a protest,” he added. “This is a victory rally. This is a victory march.”

The marchers held signs that proclaimed “Black men are winning” and “Dream Big.” Some men dropped for pushups and others walked alongside their sons. Counselors from the Well for Life showed up to hand out Gatorade, granola bars and masks to marchers as they passed.

Clark used his megaphone to yell encouragement at passersby. “Our kids will grow up afraid to speak, afraid to say what’s on their mind,” he said through the speaker. “Their freedom is what’s at stake.”

There were a handful of kids at the rally. Kenyatta Rucker, 39, brought her 1-year-old and 8-year-old sons to sign in attendees. She brought them last year, too, when her youngest was just a few weeks old.

“I want them to be a part of something positive,” she said.

The march finished at Bartlett Park, where tables were set up with food and information on the census, healthy eating and mental health resources. Other members of the community joined the marchers. Black men and kids browsed a table full of self-help literature, spiritual guides and Black literature. One man picked up Devil in the Grove, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on Thurgood Marshall. Another flipped through Radical King, a collection of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s writings.

Fernando Maynor browses the free books available for participants. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

One of the other organizers, Jason Bryant, reminded the group that they must not only show up, but also work to make the community better.

The marchers talked with school board candidate Caprice Edmond after the march. And State House District 70 candidate Mark Oliver walked with the group for part of the route.

As the group arrived at Bartlett Park, Public Enemy’s 1989 anthem Fight the Power blared from the boombox.

Reno Moore swerved and swayed, feeling the beat. The song took the 41-year-old back to being bused to a school way out of town in 1989, although Perkins Elementary was just down the street from his childhood home.

“Fight the power,” he sang. “Fight the power / Fight the power / We’ve got to fight the powers that be.”

• • •

Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.

WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

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