Larry Duncan raises his fist as he starts off a rally at the Malcolm X birthsite on May 31, 2020.
Larry Duncan raises his fist as he starts off a rally at the Malcolm X birthsite on May 31, 2020.

The words reverberated across the tree-lined rolling hills of one of America’s greatest civil right’s leader’s birthsite.

“Say his name,” Terrell McKinney said into the microphone.

“James Scurlock,” responded close to 1,000 protesters crowded around the Malcolm X birthsite as the sun set Sunday afternoon.

McKinney, a 29-year-old Creighton University law student and candidate for the state senator position in Legislative District 11, was one of many speakers gathered here for a peaceful rally centered on remembrance and action.

The family of James Scurlock, a 22-year-old man shot and killed while protesting in the Old Market Saturday night, spoke to members of the media a few hours earlier at about 5:30 p.m.

“My family wants closure and peace,” said his father, James Scurlock, II.

Scurlock, and later the family’s attorney, State Sen. Justin Wayne, said they want to allow justice to be served and declined to take any questions.

A small memorial with photos of the younger Scurlock adorned the podium. When the family gathered in front of the podium, someone said they needed to pose like JuJu, the 22-year-old Scurlock’s nickname. Laughs went out as some extended their arms in swaggering poses, a moment of levity between tears.

The family of 22-year-old James Scurlock gathers for a photo at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation on May 31, 2020.

Earlier in the day Diamond Davis, 19, remembered her friend as a goofy, caring person whose family took her in when she was homeless and had nowhere else to go. He was the reason she graduated high school and now she found it hard to comprehend that he was leaving behind such a large loving family as well as a 4-month-old daughter who hadn’t even learned to crawl yet. She too asked for people to end the violence and find unity.

“If we stand together as the people,” she said, “we have a voice.”

Community leaders echoed the same messages at the North Omaha rally which started at about 6 p.m. and lasted until 7:30 p.m.

The rally, hosted by the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation and sponsored by the Black Agenda Alliance, focused largely on educating people about historical racism.

From the construction of interstates in the 20th century to the death of Vivian Strong, a 14-year-old girl shot and killed by Omaha police in 1969 which set off race riots in North Omaha that left buildings along North 24th Street smoldering–damages the area has never recovered form.

Malcolm X Memorial Foundation President Leo Louis said the cyclical patterns haven’t stopped. Five years ago he stood in this same place preaching the need for change to protesters carrying signs with the names of different black men killed by police officers.

“The system didn’t change,” he said. “You didn’t change. Nothing changed.”  

Louis said people need to take their anger, get educated and then get involved. Terri Crawford, an instructor of Black Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, said people need to participate in meetings of the school board, city council and county board. She asked people to fill out the U.S. Census, which often undercounts communities like North Omaha. She begged people to vote.

The rally also focused on memorializing 47-year-old George Floyd who died last Monday after Minneapolis Police Officers kneeled on his throat for nearly nine minutes. To honor that time, organizers asked the crowd to stand in silence for one minute on several occasions.

As the night ended, Nikitah Imani, a professor of Black Studies at UNO spoke about where the crowd takes this from here. The former Black Panther said the struggle for civil rights is a history of small cracks and fissures. Little by little the pressure has built up, pushing against the limits holding black Americans like water against a dam. One day that dam will break, Imani said, but only once people stand united and rise up against a common cause.

“You can not condemn the water when you’ve held it back for so long,” he said.

“I am the water,” he continued later. “You are the water.”

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Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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