Thousands of Olney Protesters Join the Fight for Racial Equality

by Jenna Bloom ‘21

Sherwood students organized and led a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Olney on Sunday, June 7, to show solidarity with the Black community and fight for racial equality. Events like these have been occurring nationwide following the death of George Floyd and countless other black people at the hands of police. 

The demonstration began at Olney Mill pool, located on Briars Rd, where an estimated crowd of 2,000 protestors were equipped with signs and wearing masks. The march itself started at 2:15 and wound through the neighborhood to Route 108, which was blocked off by the police. As thousands of protestors made their way through Olney and across the intersection at Georgia Avenue, the crowd erupted with powerful chants such as “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace, No racist police,” and “Say His/Her Name.”

Sophomore Mikayla Settles approached her friend, sophomore Selene Ashewood, with the idea of having a protest in Olney. After that, the duo made a Snapchat group chat with their friends from Sherwood who they thought would be interested in helping. Sherwood students in the Snapchat group chat included Mackenzie Samartzis, Chase Bell, Mukhtar Idris, Christian Maffei, Joseph Oscilowski, Jaycie Boyle, Ariana Welch, Lizzie Dobenecker, Anna Tovchigrechko, Zoe Peenstra, Summer Green, Apurva Mahajan, Ria Kapur,  Arletta Kochinowski, Holly Rogers, Valentina Capobianco, Damon Greenan, Genevieve Calderon, and Daniella Mehlek-Dawveed. Together, they decided on a time and location and started creating online flyers to post on social media. 

Settles encourages those who want to make change to not be afraid to speak up.  “It’s scary to put yourself out there, especially for things that are controversial, but there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing you are an active part of change,” she explained.

The student organizers quickly gained support, with members from the community, including Janet Mednik, Anna Tovchigrechko, and Julia Abreu, donating signs for the event. Soon, flyers were being posted all over Instagram and Snapchat. Additionally, the Refuge Church, Settles’ family-owned church, “was very helpful in allowing protesters to use the church for parking and setting up water stations for protesters,” Settles said.

The student organizers, through MD Senator Craig Zucker, contacted the Montgomery County Police Department. “Senator Zucker lives right across the street from me, so we already had his contact information,” sophomore Joseph Oscilowski explained. “My mom reached out to him about the protest, and he asked me for specifics so that he could be better informed. He later said that he contacted the chief of police at MOCOPD, and that the police would be helping with traffic control to ensure that we could all use the street freely, and said that my mom would be the point of contact for the police.”

Patrol cars blocked traffic on route 108 to allow demonstrators to safely exit the Olney Mill neighborhood and continue the march on the avenue in the Eastbound direction. A small number of police patrolled the demonstration on foot, and the event remained peaceful. But, Settles added, “there were a couple officers who made some unhelpful and rude remarks to protesters.”

Eventually, there was an 8 minute and 46 second moment of silence along 108 for the time George Floyd spent suffocating and unable to breathe before his death.

Further down, by the intersection of Route 108 and Spartan, the group merged with the peaceful protest being held at Good Counsel. Everyone made their way down to Harris Teeter, where an open-mic was held. The crowd was able to listen to powerful speeches, many from teenagers, on the importance of activism, why voting is crucial, and the steps to take after the protest was over.

Settles said that her and her friends had “no idea how many people would show up,” and explained that they “joked that [they] would be happy to see 30 people at the protest and were so grateful to see numbers in the hundreds, possibly even thousands.”

The attendance “inspired us to do more in the community to let young voices be the face of change and bring our community together,” Settles said. The group plans on staying in contact with Senator Zucker as they move forward in the Black Lives Matter movement. Ashewood and Settles were also asked to be a part of the Refuge Church committee on pushing for police reform and further the ideas of the protesters. The organizers said that they will continue to fight by planning more protests if necessary, signing petitions, donating money, supporting black-owned businesses, watching specific YouTube videos that donate their ad revenue to black charities, and emailing/calling government officials to promote the passing of legislation.

Settles encourages readers to, “use your privilege to give those whose voices are being undermined a chance to be heard … do not be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Make sure to have many people in your corner to help you because we couldn’t have done all this without our community, family, and friends.”