Quincy, Illinois, is among the thousands of cities across the country where demonstrations against police brutality have taken place in the past two weeks. Illinois’ Gem City has a population of about 40,000, with nearby Hannibal adding another 17,000.
Michelle Renee Houston and Jessica Benton are longtime Quincy residents. They’re among the community members taking action in their own ways to raise awareness about police brutality and racism, joining a movement inspired by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
On May 30, Houston went by herself to a busy intersection and held a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.” She stood there for about an hour before some friends joined her to protect her from people harassing her from their trucks, adding that “a man with his Confederate flag kept driving by and smugging us with his exhaust.” Coincidentally, another demonstration was taking place, organized by resident Radiance Oliver, and they joined forces and marched together that day.
Benton is a local photographer outraged by recent events, including the viral story of a white woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park, and decided to use her platform to call for change. Benton now organizes with Oliver and fellow residents Shawn Jones and Tiria Humphrey. Their goal is to give Quincy’s black community a voice, address racial injustice and increase their representation by uplifting area black businesses and initiatives.
Over the weekend, they put together a memorial vigil for George Floyd and other black men and women who lost their lives due to police brutality. The Herald Whig estimates that about 500 community members showed up to stand in solidarity.
Benton and Houston joined host Sarah Fenske on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to talk about how their community is reacting to the Black Lives Matter movement and the change they’d like to see happen. Both said they’re largely proud of their community’s outpouring of support and hope it translates to real change.
Listen to the full discussion:
Quincy, Illinois, residents shared their thoughts about the ongoing protests in their city and country:
@STLonAir I’m a Quincy IL resident. Supporter of BLM. I attended the vigil for George Floyd 6/7/20. I am heartened to see more and more people in the rural areas taking a stand and speaking out against racism.
— Jessica Zapata (@jessica13zapata) June 9, 2020
My kids (ages 13, 10, 7) and I attended our first protest together in masks and keeping a safe social distance. We were there to listen and support our Black neighbors. Our family and community have a lot of work to do. #QuincyIl @mooreforquincy @RoyWebbQPS @andydouglas12 https://t.co/avPAJb2pUk
— Maggie Strong (@MaggieStrong) June 9, 2020
Quincy has a strong, beautiful, vibrant black community! Yet in a predominately white area POC represent a small percentage of the city’s population, so for community leaders, our police department, and city officials to rally around this movement was very powerful! So proud!
— Katie Hollensteiner (@katiehlnstnr) June 9, 2020
Proud to be a #quincyIL resident and so proud of the turnout for the vigil and March here on Sunday. It was nothing but positivity and love. Our organizers and speakers were AMAZING. #BlackLivesMatter#BLM
— Erin Spidle (@SpidleErin) June 9, 2020
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.
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