People driving in downtown North Augusta on Tuesdays and Thursdays will likely hear resident Brandy Mitchell before they see her.
On those evenings Mitchell holds a megaphone and a sign, protesting the Meriwether Monument, the central figure in Calhoun Park, at the corner of Georgia and Carolina avenues.
Mitchell is the creator of Unify: North Augusta, a grassroots movement that plans to work against inequality across racial lines in the area and hopes to get the Hamburg Massacre-related monument removed from the center of the city.
Mitchell said Unify: North Augusta isn’t associated with the official Black Lives Matter organization.
“We’re not a chapter, and we’re not part of their coalition, we’re just community members that believe in the statement that Black lives matter and we want to see changes in our own communities and to see how we can address areas in our communities that are underserved,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell started Unify: North Augusta in June following the death of George Floyd at the hands of policemen but said there was a spark for her when Trayvon Martin’s death occurred. Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Black teenager, was shot and killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watch member during a physical altercation.
“I feel like there is a stigma that is placed on African American men in America that for all intents and purposes is long rooted in history and I feel as if we have not addressed that stigma,” Mitchell said. “So you see situations, you know, like Ahmaud Arbery, where he was jogging through his neighborhood, he stopped to look at a house – which all of us have done – and he was gunned down in the middle of the street by two people that should have been minding their own business.
“But as I began to peel back the layers, I started to see that … we should focus on police brutality but we also need to focus on why those police officers are in our neighborhoods to begin with,” she said. Mitchell mentioned a history of redlining, lack of access to resources and underperforming schools.
Mitchell said her goal for the group is to be a bridge between those underserved communities and those in charge.
Black people make up around 17% of the population in North Augusta, and Mitchell said 40% of Black people in the city live under the poverty line.
“So for me, the No. 1 issue that I find for our communities here is our high, staggering number of African Americans that are in poverty in North Augusta. That needs to change. We need to be investing in our communities to try to bring that number down,” she said.
Mitchell wants to see a dialogue where citizens can express how they are feeling about North Augusta Public Safety, about how City Council is working with communities and how they can be an open ear to fix problems.
"I’m a business owner in North Augusta, I own CSRA Kids, I connect people with resources in their community so their families can lead better lives, and that’s essentially what I want to do with Unify: North Augusta as well," she said.
"I want to connect them to resources in their community and if those resources don’t exist, I want to compel our entities to create those avenues so that the underserved in North Augusta, so we can lower that 40% number."
Unify: North Augusta has also organized demonstrations related to the monument. The Meriwether Monument’s racially divisive language honors the one white man who was killed in the 1876 Hamburg Massacre but does not mention the seven Black men who also died during the violent clash.
Mitchell said for her the monument issue is a Christian issue.
“The Bible says there are some things that don’t move unless you have fasting and prayer behind it and I feel as if that thing is not going to move unless we continue to put pressure and if we don’t introduce God into the situation,” she said, adding she feels the monument debate is a moral issue, not a history issue, and that the 21-foot obelisk is a slap in the face to Black people in North Augusta.
Protests at the monument continue on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Mitchell holds a prayer and then heads to the corner where Georgia and Carolina avenues meet to protest. Members leave sticky notes on the monument, with phrases like “Love is love” and “Times have changed.”
Mitchell and Unify: North Augusta plan to hold community events and town hall meetings to discuss issues.
One of those events is a school supply drive planned for Saturday, Aug. 15, to take place at the North Augusta YMCA on West Martintown Road from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in partnership with the YMCA and CSRA Kids.
Mitchell hopes to organize town hall meetings, with local business owners, law enforcement, school officials and others to discuss inequality in the community. The group also plans to hold a community job fair in the future.
Unify: North Augusta has a Facebook page where updates and events can be followed, and there are multiple ways Mitchell said people can get involved.
“One thing that I want to encourage people is they need to have a more active role in holding our City Council accountable for things. That means that we need more people showing up to Council meetings and so that City Council can see that we care about our community. That’s one,” Mitchell said.
She said the group will also have opportunities for people to volunteer and become active in different things they have going on.
The third way, she mentioned, is for people to exercise their right to vote.
“We need to be electing people that have that type of mindset, how can they take care of people who are not being served correctly,” she said.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the location for the Unify: North Augusta school supply drive.