200 Days

ASHLAND — Through hot, sunny days and cold, snowy evenings, at least one person has stood daily against racism and police brutality at the corner of Main Street and Claremont Avenue in Downtown Ashland.

Monday evening marked 200 days since a single black man marched along Ashland's Main Street for the cause.

An Ashland University student and father of two, Keon Singleton started the Ashland-based protests on June 4 in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed on Memorial Day by Minneapolis police.

Three others joined him that day; 50 stood with him the next day; and 150 showed up less than a week later at Brookside Park West.

Approximately a dozen people gathered for the 200th day. 

They stood across the street from the city's Christmas tree, wearing necklaces with plastic Christmas bulbs and eating donuts while holding up their signs.  Christmas music could be heard faintly at the corner. A few passing cars honked their horns in support. 

"It's been discouraging still being out here, but I knew what came with starting all this," Singleton said.

In June, he held a sign reading, “If you were my color would you want to raise kids in this system we live in today. Didn’t think so." 

On Monday evening, his message was, "The new racism is to deny racism exists." 

"I feel like the new racism is staying silent, being in denial that systemic racism exists," Singleton said. "Not speaking up basically says you’re racist because you don’t care about it. It’s not happening to you." 

He and others at the protest expressed frustration with Ashland City Council.  

Protests outside Municipal Building

Protesters stand outside the Ashland City Municipal Building on Dec. 15. 

Members of Colorful Ashland, a group formed from the protests, spoke a meetings earlier this year, asking council to formally recognize racism as a problem. They brought a resolution before council, which was not passed. 

In September, council president Steve Workman announced members of Colorful Ashland would no longer be allowed to speak regarding racism as a broad topic. Only specific instances of racism could be brought before council, he said at that time.

"Our city government still fails to recognize this is a problem," said Heather Sample.

"They could have stopped this a long time ago if they would have come out and said, 'This is a problem. It may not directly affect Ashland, but it is a problem, and here’s the things we do to make sure it doesn’t happen.' But they chose to ignore it, and then they decided they weren’t going to talk about it anymore."

An Ashland resident and criminal defense paralegal, Sample joined the protests on June 5. She has attended regularly since then. 

"I kept saying all summer long, I’d be standing out here when it snows. And where am I at while it’s snowing outside?" she said.

As the sun beat down earlier this summer, the protests were non-violent, but nevertheless drew heated responses from some. The group was yelled at and flipped off. They were criticized for taking a stand and told to get jobs. 

"Being out here, you can really see the true colors of the people in Ashland who are racist," Singleton said.

Things got especially contentious when a group supporting President Donald Trump held a rally at Corner Park. Heated words were exchanged by both groups as the previously scheduled event for Trump began and the protest against racism was ending.

"I think a lot of people were caught up with the election madness and thought somehow we were stooges of Biden and the Democratic party, but that’s not the case," Peter Slade said. "This problem started long before Joe Biden and will carry on into the next administration." 

He and his 15-year-old daughter Anna Slade regularly participate in the protests. 

"It’s about fighting for justice. Having a 'justice' attitude instead of a 'just us' attitude. Caring about the larger community, not only your personal problems," Anna Slade said.

The sign she held Monday featured a similar message. 

"I came out here to help Ashland wake up to the fact that it’s not a sparkling community like other people would suggest. There is crime and decay and issues that need to be reconciled, even in Ashland," she said.   

She says she continues to protest because the problem remains.

Her father echoed this message. 

"I’m still out here because this isn’t a passing issue. This isn’t something that was only relevant in the summer," he said. "This is a huge, ingrained, long-running problem in America, and it’s going to be a huge, ingrained, long-running challenge into the future. We’re not going away."  

He highlighted that the protests are a movement of Ashland people, who want to "work with the whole community to make the city welcoming for everyone." 

When Singleton began in June, he promised to take a stand every day. While he hasn't been able to attend daily, others have stepped up so there's consistently a presence. 

Currently, the protests happen from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Additionally, on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, they protest behind the city's municipal building before the City Council meetings. 

"Even if I’m not out here, these people are still going to be out here regardless. It means a lot," Singleton said. "It means that we are motivated to keep pushing forward. We’re really determined."

Unless something changes, Sample foresees the protests continuing indefinitely. 

"I'll be out here until they admit there’s a problem, and they want to work on it, and talk about it, and admit it," she said. "Now, I’m thinking I’ll be out here when the sun’s back out."

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