‘We protest with love’ 00:00

The Great Rural Activism in Rural America

'We protest with love'

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Bridgette Craighead of Rocky Mount, Virginia, started organizing protests in her small town.

Did You Know? Tap to expand
Between May 24, 2020, the day before George Floyd’s murder, until August 22, 2020, more than 10,600 demonstrations took place across America. Source: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

Avery Thompson  
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protests over racial discrimination and police brutality erupted across the country. But they weren’t confined to the nation’s cities. Small towns saw their own Black Lives Matter protests. One of these was Rocky Mount, Virginia, home of Bridgette Craighead.  

Bridgette Craighead  
I am a cosmetologist, I own a beauty salon downtown Rocky Mount, it’s called El3ven 11 Beauty Lounge. And I am a mother to a beautiful four-year-old son, a handsome four-year-old son, how about that? 

I lived in Rocky Mount my whole life. I did leave for high school for four years. After that, I decided to come back and to raise my son here. 

It’s a small town, majority white, very rural. You see your farms everywhere. You have your Confederate flags flying around. We have a spot called Ippy’s. It’s a restaurant slash night club, I guess it would be called maybe, you know, we go we go in there to party, it’s the only place we have to do things. 

I chose Rocky Mount over protesting in Richmond because those places are already doing those things. They have people up there protesting and advocating. So for me, personally, I’ve seen surrounding counties protesting. And honestly, it was majority white people. And so that just that that touched my heart, and I was, you know, like, okay, maybe we can do the same thing here in Rocky Mount. 

And one night I was watching the news. And I seen that Lynchburg, Virginia, had a peaceful protest that made the news. And it was beautiful. And I decided to have a protest just to bring awareness to George Floyd’s death. 

So I called my cousin, I’m like, “Girl, let’s have a protest.” 

She’s like, “Oh, no, not me.” 

She was afraid. She was afraid of the backlash and people yelling at us. And I just had in my mind, I didn’t care. So I went on Facebook and I made an event. 

The next day, my cousin decided to do it with me. She thought about it. And she didn’t want me to go out there by myself. 

After that it was you know, we talked to the police officers and we let them know, it’s gonna be peaceful. We promise you we are here to just to bring awareness to police brutality.

We thought maybe 10 people was going to show up. It ended up exceeding way more than 10. We had over 150 people show up to our protest. And I just remember looking at my cousin and I was like, dang girl, we did it. 

I was nervous. But I had a sense of calmness over me as well. I felt brave. I felt like it needed to happen. I literally felt God telling me, do this. Do it, do it, do it. And when we did it, it was like a butterfly effect. It’s just everyone that came across us just wanted to be a part of what we were doing. That nervousness went away. You know, we were just protesting with love. 

Avery Thompson  
Unfortunately, though, not everyone felt the same way.

Bridgette Craighead  
Soon as we got outside, it wasn’t even five minutes of being outside of the courthouse. Someone drove by. And he said some pretty nasty things. And that was, for me, that was a test because I just told someone that we weren’t going to worry about stuff like that. And then it happened. So me being a leader, I had to do something quickly. So I just said “I love you!” I just start screaming, “I love you,” while he’s screaming at me “eff me” and I’m like “I love you. I love you.” And that’s all I kept saying and he drove off. 

It was a few bad apples, but it was mostly positive. That is what gave us more fuel to the fire to keep going. We seen that there was a lot of support. A lot of white support. I have to put that out there. Because I feel like this wouldn’t have been as successful if we didn’t have our allies. 

We protest in a different way. Like I said, we protest with love. So when we’re outside, we’re singing, we’re dancing, we have kids, we have blow-up houses. And you know, we just have a really good time. It’s not your normal protesting. 

When I leave from a protest, I don’t want to feel heavy and upset, yelling and cursing, I don’t want to do all of that. I want to leave telling every single person that showed that I love them. And that’s what we do. 

I brought my son to every protest that I had because I believe that he needed to see what mommy was doing. Also to show other people that I have faith that everything was gonna be okay. And that this is for him. I want him to see that Mommy is standing up for me before anything happens to him. I was out there in those streets protesting to save his life.

Avery Thompson  
As much as Bridgette loves living in a small town, where it feels like everyone knows each other, that can also have its drawbacks. 

Bridgette Craighead  
In the beginning, I was told not to ever read the comments, but I’m hard headed. I read the comments because I like to know who, you know, who’s my enemy. And I seen on several different posts people discussing where I live. So you know, I got nervous, I did, especially when I see these tough men talking about, oh, well, I know where she lives. And she live in such a such, so I felt the need I had to move to make sure that me and my son was safe at all times. 

I will be lying if I say that I’m not afraid or feel like anything is bothering me because it is. However, I have to be brave. And I have to put on this armor of courage. So I could continue to do what I’m doing because it’s not about me. It’s about a bigger picture. I realize that people here don’t have a voice. And the people that are in charge are not listening. So if I don’t do it, then who’s going to do it?

Avery Thompson  
But for Bridgette, protesting is just the beginning.

Bridgette Craighead  
Protesting just wasn’t getting us to where we need to be. Yes, it has helped. It has been a tool that has brought out awareness to situations going on in our district. But it’s just so much you can get done with protesting. 

We need to be in the house where decisions and legislation is being made. So now I am running for the House of Delegates. My name is Bridget Craighead. I am a mother, a cosmetologist, a business owner, and I’m running for the House of Delegates. If you want to get involved, you can go to www.bridgettefordelegate.com


Avery Thompson  
For iPondr, I’m Avery Thompson.

Audio story edited by Annie Sinsabaugh

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Episode Activism in Rural America