Peaceful protestors pack downtown park

  • Community members gathered in Hancock Park to show support and unity during an anti-racism protest on Sunday afternoon.
    Community members gathered in Hancock Park to show support and unity during an anti-racism protest on Sunday afternoon.

The grassy lawn of Hancock Park is often filled with people in folding chairs or sitting on outspread blankets awaiting the start of a concert, like it was on Sunday afternoon.
However, the signs with phrases like ‘Silence = Violence’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’ that also filled the park were a quick reminder that Amy Ray wasn’t in town for a concert this time.
Instead, the popular Dahlonega musician hosted an anti-racism peace rally named “A Call for Unity,” inviting several speakers to share their thoughts with the socially distanced crowd, most of whom were wearing masks.
“I live here and I wanted to make a difference here,” Ray told The Nugget following the event.  “I just wanted to try to put something together so people could hear some voices from the different communities speak, notably the black community that’s around us and just kind of hear what they can do to help make change, because I think there’s a lot of people that want to do the right thing and that haven’t figured out how to get the courage up to do it.”
The event was open to all, with attendees including Dahlonega natives, UNG alumni and even representatives running for Congress.
Michelle Vatral Paget felt it was important to come back to her college town and show support for unity in Dahlonega.
“We just came back, we support Dahlonega,” she said. “We know how small towns need as much help as they can get.”
Daniel Blackman, the democratic nominee for Public Service Commission in Georgia’s fourth district, spoke on the importance of north Georgia in the efforts to thwart racism nationwide.
“I want you all to understand, number one, the importance of north Georgia and the importance of the non-black community,” Blackman said during his speech. “I want north Georgia to be the epicenter of what this movement looks like….I’m excited that transformative change is happening, but I want it to be contagious.”
Sarah Adams, who grew up in Dahlonega and graduated from Lumpkin County High School before going to Yale University, said she was proud to see movements for change happening in her hometown.
“It feels really special to come back at a time like this when there are protests happening all over the country and to be able to come back to my own hometown, to have a rally for anti-racism and peace too, I feel really proud of everyone for coming out here today for that,” Adams said to the crowd.
UNG student and Nugget intern Jennifer Ramsay also stood to speak about racism that she’s noticed in Dahlonega in her time living and working here.
“I encountered a lot of people...who believed that racism is apparently dead and it ended in the 1960’s when the Civil Rights movement happened and MLK led some marches and said some speeches and the last racist that ever lived shot him and everything was a happy ending. But it’s not,” she said during her speech. “A lot of people like to think that Dahlonega’s a great little town and everyone’s friendly but I can tell you from my experience as a student here that it’s not and most minority students could tell you guys the same thing.”
Ramsay told the crowd of specific scenarios where she felt discrimination in Dahlonega.
“It’s not overt, nobody’s calling me slurs in the street or beating me up because I’m out after dark,” she said. “It’s more covert. It’s the people who will cross the street to avoid walking next to me or they’ll shake people’s hands and then when they get to me it’s suddenly hands in your pockets or they’re smiling at everyone and then they see me and the smile is gone.”
Ramsay finished her speech by saying that the turnout to the event is an encouraging effort.
“I like Dahlonega, but sometimes when those things happen it hurts me. Most of the time I brush it off, but sometimes it hurts my feelings and I want to cry and I want to leave, but I love this place,” she said. “I think that those dark spots of prejudice can sometimes really marr the light this town has, but seeing all of you guys out here really gives me a lot of hope that not everyone in this town is terrible. There are a lot of really lovely people here.”
Throughout the event Sheriff Stacy Jarrard stood on the edge of the lawn, with a small group of law enforcement officers nearby.
“Everything was peaceful,” said Lt. Alan Roach of the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office. “We didn’t have any problems. They had 75 to 100 people out there and no problems whatsoever,”
Other speakers at the event included Indivisible Lumpkin’s Marisa Pyle, Stephanie Guilloud of Project South and Rev. Charlotte Arsenault of Georgia Mountain Unitarian Universalist Church in Dahlonega.
Guilloud led an 8-minute moment of silence where those in attendance were asked to kneel or raise a fist in solidarity with the nationwide movement toward racial justice. Eight minutes is representative of George Floyd’s death in police custody on May 25 in Minnesota.
The event was closed out in prayer by Arsenault.
Like Ramsay, Ray also felt encouraged by the turnout and support shown by the town she’s called home for nearly 30 years.
“I’m just thankful that there are people willing to show up and have signs and be present and be visible,” Ray told The Nugget. “I think the visibility of people that are anti-racist is really important, and so I’m thankful that there’s that many people, and to all the people that spoke and stuff, it was them that took the courage to get up there and talk.”