Walter Dobgima has struggled to sleep since news broke of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police.
"The situation with George Floyd was particularly, very traumatizing for me," he said. "This could have been me, it could have been any other person of color."
After seeing similar sentiments on social media, he started a group with his Woodbury neighbors on NextDoor called "Equality and Justice." The positive response prompted the 39-year-old Woodbury resident of seven years to organize his first-ever protest.
Thursday at 1 p.m., attendees will march from Colby Lake to Woodbury City Hall in memory of George Floyd and to protest against police brutality and systemic racism. With more than 100 expected to attend, the event is shaping up to be Woodbury's first large-scale demonstration in at least the last decade.
"We no longer can just be silent about this," Dobgima said. "It's not unique to St. Paul or Minneapolis or Chicago or New York. It’s right there in our backyard in Woodbury. And I do believe that, if I want to create an impact, if I want change, I must start within my own community."
Unprecedented protests in small cities, suburbs and towns nationwide have been reported in the last few weeks, each calling for an end to police brutality and injustice, BuzzFeed reports. The Owatonna People's Press reported a student-led protest lasted for 10 hours, drawing as many as 200 people, Wednesday. Protesters have also gathered in St. Louis Park, where Floyd lived, the Sun Sailor reports.
Dobgima said the gathering will start at 1 p.m. with remarks from Woodbury Mayor Anne Burt. The march to City Hall will begin by 1:30, with an expected arrival time of 2 p.m. People are welcome to meet the march at City Hall, Dobgima said, where an eulogy for Floyd will be read, and community leaders have been invited to speak. The event is timed to align with Floyd's memorial service in Minneapolis.
Monday, Dobgima attended a student-led protest at Ojibway Park, which drew about 40 people.
"While we were at that protest, we had at least three people who drove by giving us a finger and using the F-word," he said. "Was I really surprised by this? No. Woodbury is predominantly white, and some people might just never get it. They will never know what it means to live in fear."
Still, he said, he hopes this event can spark enduring conversations about race and equality in the predominantly white, largely affluent suburb. He and co-organizers have talked about organizing more events in the future, such as a picnic.
"This is all for us to learn and build our community," he said. "I feel like I need to start these conversations with people within my community ... We have to have these uncomfortable conversations, or else we’ll never forward."