Nolensville was the site of a demonstration on Saturday, which attracted around 400 community members who joined with community and faith leaders in promoting difficult conversations around race and equality.
The Nolensville March for Equality was organized by Together Nolensville, a community group whose mission according to their Facebook post, is to "support a unified pursuit for justice, equality and protection for the minority members within our community."
The march departed the Williamson County Recreation Complex just after 6 p.m. led by Jenkins Cumberland Presbyterian Church Pastor Jason Mikel and Ebenezer United Methodist Church Pastor John D. Alexander.
"We march today because there are racist evils in this world that must be called out lest they kill yet again. We march today because the system is selling lies to us. The lies convince us that there is no real racism and we know better. The lies are that there are not some that are valued over others, that their are not injustices inbred to our systems that affect those of color in our land. We hear those lies and we rebuke them today so we march," Rev. Mikel said. "We march because the world is not how it should be. Our world is failing the test of loving others as much as we love ourselves. We don't hear the cries and we don't empathize. But loving some neighbors won't work — We have to love every neighbor as much as we love ourselves."
The group of hundreds of people held signs and chanted as they marched down Nolensville Road to Ebenezer United Methodist Church, where they met up with members of the Ebenezer UMC and marched together to the Nolensville Park football field.
The peaceful demonstration gathered around a stage in the field where group prayers were held by a variety of faith leaders.
On that stage several community members of color spoke about their personal experiences facing racism or bias in their daily lives, even in their own neighborhoods and community.
"Sometimes being black for me is suppressing my own emotions to prove that I deserve dignity and respect," Nolensville resident and trial lawyer Robyn Lee said as she recounted personal and professional experiences. "As a Christian sometimes it means that I have to prove myself as a calm person, I have to hide how angry I am about the things that are going on in our world. I have to not be emotional about the things that are going on in the world even though I am."
The keynote speaker was Nashville actor, musician and activist Tyler Merritt, who runs The Tyler Merritt Project YouTube channel, and whose 2018 video “Before You Call” (also referred to as “Before You Call the Cops”) went viral.
Merritt challenged the crowd to face the realities of racism, racial injustice and equality with truth and hope for the future, advocating for engagement with those who are different in their beliefs and values so that individuals and communities can become better versions of what we are, exclaiming that "not being racist is no longer enough."
"There's going to be some difficult stuff going on when you leave here. There might already be some difficult stuff on your phone right now. You might have to go home to moms and dads, brothers and sisters who do not feel the way that you feel right now in this park," Merritt said. "But right now, in this moment, you've done the right thing, and through hope, bravery and love I pray, my friends, that you would simply do the next right thing."
Nolensville High School students Genesis Smith, Joshua Mallery and Kameron Fintress attended the rally together to take part in a moment of change in the small, but growing community.
Smith spoke about her personal experiences of racism and culture shock after moving from Chicago to Nolensville three years ago saying that she was called racially-offensive terms like “ghetto."
“I’m glad everyone came together today and realized that we all have to come together and protect black lives,” Smith said.
Mallery moved from Nashville to Nolensville and echoed Smith’s point of less diversity in the county, recalling instances of being followed in the mall by police.
“That was when it started for me, and I’m glad that we’re bringing attention to it now, but at the same time I’m like, ‘Why now?’ This has been an issue forever,” Mallery said.
All three teens said that they are hopeful for the future, citing the growth of Black-owned businesses and the global movement towards equality that has been led in part by teens and young adults.
Organizer Reba Wright said in a phone call that the event succeeded in their goal of raising awareness of the issues that community members face inside and outside of Nolensville, and those collective struggles and, she said, the conversations and actions to address them is far from over.
"We had a fantastic response from the community, everybody said that they walked away with their hearts full and a lot of moment and excited to build on the conversations that were started Saturday," Wright said. "We have best intentions to make Together Nolensville a non-profit to do continued work within our community for other minorities or marginalized individuals to spread awareness, build relationships and uplift those individuals."
More information about Together Nolensville can be found here and a full video recording of the march and speakers can be found below.