“This is an extension of nonviolence. That is why we’re doing this — to be supportive of all members of this community.”
That is what Mark Rine said of an organized silent march that took place Jan. 29, just one week after members of hate groups and some local church organization members showed up to an LGBTQIA+ charity event in protest of a drag show.
Rine, the president of Tennessee Tech’s chapter of the NAACP, said for him standing against what was displayed just one week prior is “basic humanity.”
“The things that my parents taught me when I was a child were centered around basic human civility,” he said.
He said the march itself was not specifically targeted at a specific cause, but many who showed up in protest last week are a threat to many marginalized groups of people.
“That is what this shows. We’re stronger together as individual marginalized communities coming together as one to stand up against that filth,” Rine said. “There are more people here showing love than there were Nazis showing hate last week, and that is what is important.”
Rine said it was Anthony Onaghinor, the NAACP’s secretary, who thought it would be a good idea to make Sunday’s march an extension of the annual Alpha Phi Alpha march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Onaghinor said he feels a lot of negativity came from nowhere and felt it was important to have a peaceful march “to make sure everyone is heard.”
“Being a Tennessee Tech student, I felt disappointed in the greater community,” he said. “I felt disappointed because after the battles we have faced in our community, me being African American, it is never over. I always believe that whatever community you adopt as your home, being welcome is a great feeling. For something like that to happen last weekend, it wasn’t really a great start for the year.”
“We’re showing support for all members of this community. It is a mixed community, and it belongs to all of us,” Rine said. This is a community that is growing, and if they want to continue the growth, they’re going to have to accept that with growth comes progress — and this is what progress looks like.”
More than 100 people attended and marched silently from Derryberry Hall to Ralph’s Donuts where protesters stood the week before.
Some church congregations showed up in support of the march and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Someone who identified themselves as being a part of the St. Michael’s Episcopal Church said they are not “pro-hating anything.”
“Everyone is welcome there, and please know you are welcome,” she said.
Tennessee Tech student Tonya Kahn said she has lived in Cookeville for four years. She said she enjoys Cookeville as a town, but the reflection of a loving community doesn’t always show itself.
“I came out today to show that there are members of this community that do not stand for hate and are willing to stand up and actively denounce it instead of how they are staying silent,” she said. “I am here to stand up and show that I am an ally to all communities.”
Others in attendance included local activists, Sayota Knight and Andrew Smith, and local faith leader Deanna Lack of the Unitarian Universalist congregation — all of whom spoke once the marchers arrived at the scene where protesters stood the weekend prior.
“When we sit back and stay silent, that is equivalent to complicity,” Knight said. “I can tell you, looking at this group of people, none of us agree with racism, or homophobia, or sexism or anything of oppression.”
Smith, referencing a city council meeting where many people attended demanding action from the council members to prohibit drag performances, said he is “more afraid of the tall steeple churches.”
“They have not spoken up,” he said. “They have not said a word to condemn the hate groups that stood where you’re standing right now. I want you to visualize your love and your power sweeping that sidewalk clean forever of hatred, clean forever of fascism, clean forever of homophobia, sexism, racism … all of it. Wash all of it away with your love.”
“Love will overcome hatred,” Smith added. “There is nothing controversial about our message.”
Saturday, the day before the march, Tech Players Club and Lambda GSA returned with an 18-and-up drag show after being the center of a controversy in the fall.
The shows returned to campus without issue after Tennessee Tech officials revised their policies to prohibit minors from attending any event with live performances.
“The Lambda Gay-Straight Alliance is a valued part of our diverse roster of student organizations and a partner in University leadership’s efforts to maintain the inclusive, respectful campus experience that all Golden Eagles expect and deserve,” university officials said in a statement. “The University strongly condemns all acts of discrimination and hate, including the appalling display of a Nazi flag seen off campus. In polarizing times, we are proud of how our Golden Eagles continue to set an example of how students of diverse experiences and viewpoints can share mutual understanding and kindness.”