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These two young leaders inspire peers and fight racial injustice
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The Newtown Florist Club rally Monday, June 1, 2020, gave opportunity for young people to discuss their feelings on recent protests and the causes behind them as well as plan out what steps they may want to take next during the event where Rose Johnson, Newtown’s executive director, said the gathering is not a protest but a “community organizing event.” - photo by Scott Rogers

Like their older mentors before them, two young leaders from the Gainesville civil rights group, the Newtown Florist Club, have accepted the torch. 

As protests have sparked around the U.S. in response to the death of George Floyd, 19-year-olds Jackie Lipscomb and Aniyah Norman, have risen to the forefront to speak out against systemic racism and police brutality, and ask for change.

“It’s definitely our time to start speaking up and doing something about it,” Norman said. “They’re (Newtown Florist Club leaders) getting older, and we can’t keep depending on them. It’s not their obligation to fight for black lives for their entire lives.”

Both Lipscomb and Norman stood among their peers on Monday, June 1, during a rally in downtown Gainesville led by the Newtown Florist Club.

Norman, a University of Georgia honor student from Gainesville, spoke before the crowd of around 200 people and held a sign that read, “We are Tired.”

“The main message I was wanting to get across is that everyone’s anger is justified, and a need to be heard and get out,” Norman said. “But to make a change, we also have to get involved in our community.”

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Hundreds gather Monday, June 1, 2020, during the Newtown Florist Club rally in Gainesville in reaction to the death of George Floyd and the issues of police brutality and systemic racism. Rose Johnson, Newtown’s executive director, said the gathering will be “a more meaningful discussion” of next steps following the protests. - photo by Scott Rogers

She is currently leading an outreach project with the Newtown Florist Club to inspire more voter engagement among college students.  

When Lipscomb first heard about Floyd’s death, she said her heart broke into pieces. 

“What if that was my brother?” she said. “It just hurt my heart, and just to think it’s not only George Floyd that died this way, it’s more than him. Every single name needs to be remembered.”

Lipscomb said she started using social media as a platform to voice her feelings on the situation. She also joined in the Newtown Florist Club’s peaceful rally on Monday, and participated shortly after in the downtown Gainesville protest. 

“I went for a few minutes just to yell and scream,” she said. “It felt good to tell people that this isn’t right. People are out here dying.”

Lipscomb is spearheading a candlelight vigil to honor Floyd and other victims of police violence at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The event will take place on the greenspace of the midtown pedestrian bridge overlooking Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Two years ago the young leader revived Newtown Florist Club’s program, Bright Teens United For a Future, also known as B-TUFF. Lipscomb said her goal is to equip local youth to become more productive members of society. She plans to launch a couple of new projects soon, including one that educates teenagers on their rights. 

Lipscomb said her advice to the local youth would be to become more aware of the issues happening across the nation.

“Read, research and educate yourselves,” she said. “You can never know enough. Don’t stop when you graduate (from high school). Even with the pandemic, don’t stop learning new stuff. Read the newspaper, look at the news. Don’t just be on social media.”

The Rev. Rose Johnson, executive director of Newtown Florist Club, said both Lipscomb and Norman have played active leadership roles in the civil rights group for years.

She anticipates more young activists will soon make their voices heard. 

Since the protests and peace rally have taken place in Hall County, Johnson said she has witnessed a wave of young people seeking out ways to become involved in Hall County.

“That’s just a very inspirational moment in the life of our community,” Johnson said. 

When she is contacted by someone asking how they can help in the area, Johnson said she poses the questions, “What is the thing that makes you moved?” and “What is the thing that makes you realize how important it is for you to be active in your community?”

“Self identify what is going to move them, so they can stay committed over the long-haul,” she said. “That is what’s going to be required for change to happen.”

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