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SOU activists march to bring attention to racism

What is it like to be an African-American in the Rogue Valley?

To Southern Oregon University senior Ahsante Foree, it means being followed around in grocery stores. It means being stereotyped publicly while filling in as a DJ. It means being told by a man who was watching a march Foree led last year, “I’m going to go get my gun.”

So Foree, a 22-year-old sociology and psychology major and student activist, is planning to do something about it. Again.

A year after Foree helped organize #OperationHandsUpWalkOut, the co-chairman of SOU’s Equal Rights Alliance has organized a similar march — Operation: Wake Up Ashland — planned for today. Faculty and community members who want to participate will meet at Stevenson Union at 12:30 p.m. to begin a peaceful march, first through campus and later through Ashland down Siskiyou Boulevard. A tentative schedule calls for the marchers, who plan to cross the street at each crosswalk along the way, to reach the Plaza and hold a moment of silence around 3:30 p.m.

News of the march has spread across campus through an Operation: Wake Up Ashland Facebook page and word of mouth. Foree credits SOU English professor Alma Rosa Alvarez with helping to drum up support through her connection with the Racial Equity Coalition. There’s also an email campaign.

Foree said about 30 people joined the walk last year. This year, the hope is that about 50 people will show up.

“I know that I kind of want to keep it under a certain number, mainly just because permits and stuff like that — protest permits and parade permits,” Foree said. “However, (associate director of student life — diversity and inclusion) Marjorie Trueblood-Gamble here on our campus has reached out to our campus safety and the chief, and also Alma Rosa Alvarez has reached out to the chief of police to just tell them to kind of be nice and be respectful.

“I really want to be intentional about making sure not to obstruct traffic,” Foree said. “But then again, I also do really want to cause some halts and cause people to look at our signs because a lot of times, especially in a town that is notoriously color blind and resistant to the idea that racism can live here, people can kind of just see stuff like this and think that they can honk and wave and then that’s their racial equity work that they’ve done for the year.”

To Foree, that would be letting Ashlanders off the hook, which is why being “intentional” during the march is so important.

“We want people to look at these (signs) and bear witness to our truths,” Foree said, “and I think that would be poorly served if we just walked on the sidewalk, chanting and stuff like that. People would honk and wave and would get their oh-I-did-a-good-thing card and probably take a selfie with us. But we’re not letting people off too easy.”

What does Foree hope to accomplish? For that, Foree points to the event’s Facebook page, which was written mostly by C Andrada Hughes, a close friend. “We are taking action because, as we see it, things have not changed much,” it reads. “Tuesday (Dec. 1) mark(ed) a year since our last protest, and it is time for a refresher.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.