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Written by Jordan Occasionally.
After a second night of protests with “activist” Devante Hill, I felt an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. A few friends that I normally walked with in former protests stopped showing up and I wondered why. “Watch out. He’s a pig in sheep’s clothing,” they told me. And I didn’t want to believe them. But after walking with him for a second time, some of his noticeable errors were hard to ignore.
When protesters met together at the last temple that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech, Clayborn Temple, Devante Hill was already bragging about a new megaphone that someone acquired for him after a verbal altercation with the Memphis Black Lives Matter (BLM) Chapter ensued the night prior. I saw nothing wrong with him making lighthearted jokes about things, as black people often laugh in response to trauma. I tried to ignore it; however, I refused to look away when I noticed him taking videos of protesters expressing their opinions on the movement. I found this to be concerning, considering the lives he was putting at risk had their identities been revealed to white supremacists and cops who have been abusing innocent lives (as we’ve collectively seen all over social media).
After an exercise of kneeling, in solidarity with George Floyd who had his life taken in front of the world, us protesters saw another crowd of protesters approach us chanting the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The first words that came out of Devante Hill’s mouth in response when they were closer to us was, “Don’t let these counter protesters distract you.”
Counter protesters? I wondered, why use those words to describe them when they are actively amplifying the lives that we were risking ours for? When the crowd got closer, their commands became more imperative. “Do not follow Hill!” On the brink of an argument, I decided to step in the middle of both Hill and the “counter-protesters” to diffuse the situation. I had mentioned on Twitter earlier in the day jokingly that if “battle of the leaders” happened again, I would try to come to the bottom of it.
I talked with the “counter-protesters” and asked them if we could come together for the sake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and too many other names. I soon found out these were leaders supported by Memphis’s Black Lives Matter Chapter. I started to feel uneasy as I learned from someone in the crowd that Devante had been selling t-shirts to raise money for the BLM Memphis Bail Fund, but BLM had never received a penny from the sales. The more people asked Devante about where the money was going, the more he avoided it altogether.
This raised a few red flags for me, not just because of money but because of my life as a protester. If I were to wear a shirt from a publicized protest, I could easily be pinpointed by an officer. I suddenly felt that my life was at risk in Devante’s hands, but I wanted to think smart about things. Memphis had just passed a curfew for ten p.m, so I made it up in my mind that I would try to leave earlier in the night for the sake of my own anxiety.
Finally, the two sides came to an agreement and we were en route to protest. We were on our way with Frank Gotti (representative of the BLM chapter) and Devante Hill in the front. Whenever police cars would pile up on side streets, Gotti would take us on a new route. His routes often included informative facts about historic buildings in the city that had direct correlation with black exploitation. I grew frustrated when Devante Hill admitted on his megaphone that he had no idea these buildings were actually there.
More importantly, when Frank Gottie took us on a route that we never took before, the cops were absolutely nowhere to be found. In moments like these, Devante would climb atop a statue or a “flower bed” and discuss his concerns with race, leaving us protesters in a single spot for an unbearably long time.
Devante Hill would often allow older white men and women to “speak their truth” or he would point out signs from white protesters instead of choosing to amplify marginalized voices like black trans-women and other black voices in the crowd.
One of the men Hill appointed for a “speech” literally said “I don’t see color,” and the entire crowd of Black, Latinx, Asian, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, and White folks looked around uncomfortably.
Another moment that made many confused was when Devante Hill would do a chant that came off as a performative mechanism for cameras. He would tell black people to say, “I can’t breathe,” and ask white people to follow with the same chant, “because when we can’t breathe, you can’t breathe!” Once again, the crowd had protesters of all backgrounds there that were being left out of the conversation completely.
Around 8:30 P.M, I noticed that we were moving further and further away from our cars, and by 9:15 PM, we were nearly a twenty minute walk away. Whenever we turned a corner at Hill’s request, cops already seemed to know where we were going. They were there before we could even meet them. With only 45 minutes to spare before curfew, a young black man had expressed his anger in the face of the cops. As protesters, I saw this as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with this young man who was expressing so clearly the outrage we felt in our hearts. I wanted us to surround him and let him know that we were there to protect him. But Devante Hill lead us protesters in the opposite direction, leaving the young man exposed and vulnerable as it lacked a quality of “peacefulness”.
My heart hurt for the man that looked like my father, my nephew, and my cousin left behind by so many, and that was when I ran for my car (which again was twenty minutes away). As I was running, I could still hear Devante’s speeches echoing in the distance when the clock was almost at ten p.m, just minutes away from curfew.
Luckily, I found a ride and made it home safely. When I opened Twitter for the first time since the protest began, I noticed an article that looked a lot like propaganda to me. “Sixth night of Memphis protests ends peacefully at 10 P.M. Curfew.” https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2020/06/01/memphis-protests-monday-curfew-george-floyd-police-brutality/5312103002/
Peacefully? Where was the peace when that man was left exposed to the dogs and the horses in the distance? Or when I received a few messages from my friends that they felt like they were being followed by undercover cops when they walked to their cars after curfew.
I expressed my concerns with those who had warned me prior to the protest about Devante Hill that I no longer felt safe in his custody. The entire night, we had to beg him to mention Breonna Taylor. There was no amplification for Tony McDade either. I left the protest feeling powerless.
As a millennial, I took to what I knew best to express my concerns: Twitter! I wrote a thread about my feelings at the protest, and in just a few hours I had more retweets than I could keep up with.
So many others at the protest started to expose their feelings about him taking photos of them and leaving them vulnerable after curfew.
Some even said that he was mentioning the exact same things in other protests, as if he had organized a script of some sort.
In fact, someone shared with me that prominent figures in our community, Darin Abstin Jr., Victoria Jones, and so many others ended up in police custody after a protest lead by Hill where he fled the scene. Our County Commissioner that organizes alongside the BLM Memphis Chapter, Tami Sawyer, was the only leader that stayed with protesters at the precinct the entire night to bail them out.
A good friend of mine shared with me an article in the past of him being arrested for false reporting. https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/memphis-activist-devante-hill-charged-with-false-reporting/400976678/
Soon there was so much proof of him exploiting black trauma that it was impossible to ignore, including stealing the identity of an ex-lover named Rell Smith for his own personal gain. “Devante Hill stole my identity…Follow him at your own risk.”
But he has ignored it all. And in a facebook group message full of passionate advocators, where he was an admin, he began deleting allegations as they rose to the surface.
The way this man has toyed with innocent lives for his own gain, uplifting himself instead of centering the very lives that die on the hands of those that are supposed to protect and serve, is nothing short of disgusting. Some may say that articles like these are created to bring down a black man serving his community, but as a black, queer woman who has grown up here and advocated for black lives in Memphis since before this all began, I would have to disagree that Devante Hill is from this community at all. Now that I have been given a platform by the very people that felt comfortable enough to confide in me, it is only right that I share this information with anyone that will listen.
In The Middle: Of A ‘Black Parade’
12 Year-Old Keedron Bryant Signed to Warner Records
“OOHHH THANK YA” is all Keedron Bryant had to say on social media when news finally came out that he had signed a record deal with Warner Records.
Amidst all the difficult news we’ve been facing these past few weeks, we wanted to give you something to smile about. You might remember Keedron Bryant, the 12-year-old boy who went viral after posting a video of himself singing “I Just Wanna Live,” a song written by his mother that tells of being Black in America and just wanting to live.
Keedron’s performance was noticed by everyone from former president Barack Obama, who referred to him and posted the performance in a statement on the murder of George Floyd, to comedian Ellen Degeneres, who closed her show with his full video.
Just when we thought this story couldn’t give us any more feels, it was announced that Keedron was officially signed to Warner Records and his viral hit would be released on all platforms Friday, June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, a day marking the end of slavery in America.
Congratulations are definitely in order for Keedron Bryant.
Netflix CEO Donates $120 Million to HBCU’s
Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, along with his wife, Patty Quillin, are donating $120 million dollars in total to Morehouse College, Spelman College, and the United Negro College Fund. The $120 million will go towards scholarships for the students. Each college will get $40 million.
According to the United Negro College Fund, this is the largest single donation by individuals.
In a statement Hastings and Quillin said, “We’ve supported these three extraordinary institutions for the last few years because we believe that investing in the education of black youth is one of the best ways to invest in America’s future.”
This isn’t Hastings’ and Quillin’s first time donating to HBCU’s and minority education. In 1997, the two began supporting the KIPP charter school network which helps black and latino students. In 2016, Hastings created a $100 million dollar education fund for black and latino scholarships.
“HBCUs have a tremendous record, yet are disadvantaged when it comes to giving. Generally, white capital flows to predominantly white institutions, perpetuating capital isolation. We hope this additional $120 million donation will help more black students follow their dreams and also encourage more people to support these institutions — helping to reverse generations of inequity in our country,” says Hastings and Quillin.