Marchers moved through downtown Madison from Gaines Park to the Broadway Gymnasium while supporting Friday’s Black Lives Matter peaceful protest. (Madison Courier staff photo by David Campbell)
Marchers moved through downtown Madison from Gaines Park to the Broadway Gymnasium while supporting Friday’s Black Lives Matter peaceful protest. (Madison Courier staff photo by David Campbell)
Police shut down Broadway Street for close to two hours Friday night as more than 100 protesters and several onlookers gathered to rally for unity and peace in the aftermath of high-profile police brutality cases in other areas of the nation .

Protestors gathered at least twice at the Jefferson County Courthouse the week of June 1 to oppose racism as part of an anti-police brutality moment sweeping through major cities and small towns across the United States. But Friday’s gathering was the largest so far in Madison, with locals coming together to protest the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and other incidents of police violence toward black Americans.

The crowd first gathered and packed tiny Gaines Park on the north end of Broadway around 7 p.m., the former location of Madison’s all-black Broadway School that was closed in 1957 following the end of segregated schools in Indiana and later burned. Madison native and protest organizer Derek Cosby burned bundled sage to cleans and purify the area and provided instructions to marchers — some wearing protective masks and carrying signs — on how the march would be carried out.

Protesters Friday said they were not there to oppose local police, but ignite a network in Madison for “showing up” and making change, whether through voting, organizing or simply making their presence known, Cosby said.

“If you really want to make a change, this is the way to do it, this was the spark. Now we all have a network. We have people to call on if we need to show up to the town meeting to make sure that they do what the town wants, they have a call-to-action-type network,” he later said.

Scott Kollman, a pastor at New Life Fellowship on Clifty Drive also delivered an message and praised protesters for “looking at the man in the mirror” and helping make a change. After speeches from other organizers and a prayer, the group began its march up Broadway to Main Street and then down Broadway to toward the riverfront.

People of different ages and races chanted the names of Taylor and Floyd as they passed the Broadway Fountain and the intersection of Main Street. Madison Police blocked off that section of the roadway to give marchers safe passage to the other side of Broadway and parked at both ends of the street to keep the area under control, which organizers were not expecting, Cosby said.

Some protesters came in large groups and chanted through megaphones. Others attended with their significant others or families and carried their children on their shoulders. Two golf carts driven by young boys followed alongside the crowd offering water to thirsty marchers.

When the marchers reached the other side of Broadway, they stopped in front of Brown Gym and formed a circle as several people spoke on unity, race relations, injustice and coming together for a common good.

Lionel Smith, a lifelong resident of Madison, spoke about the need for all people to take accountability toward eliminating hate and negative perceptions of African Americans.

“I see a lot of family and friends out here right now … the pastor down there said it takes a change to look at the man in the mirror. And I think right now as I look at everybody in this crowd, you guys took the change and said ‘I.’ You said ‘I’m the person who’s going to make the change’ and that’s what it takes,” Smith said.

Toccara Bumphus, a Madison native now living in Westfield, talked about a religious obligation to stand against racism.

“If this happens to our white brothers and sisters, or our Mexican brothers and sisters, anybody, we have a right to intercede and stand in the gap. So that’s why we’re here today … because what you’ve done unto me, you’ve done unto Christ,” Bumphus said.

Following more speeches and a coordinated kneeling in the middle of the street, the group turned and marched back toward Gaines Park.

More speeches followed after their arrival, along with a candlelight vigil and a group singing of “Lean on Me.” By 8:30 p.m. the group began dispersing with some leaving while others socialized outside Gaines Park.

Cosby said the idea for the protest came from a Zoom call between his brother, Phil Cosby, and other friends and family on the subject of racism that was shared to social media. Phil began organizing the event just over a week ago, and the news spread quickly around town via word of mouth.

Cosby, who was recently laid off from his job in Indianapolis as a trade show organizer, took over promotion for the protest and made a Facebook event page. But most of the participants knew of it from word of mouth and different circles around town, especially with the younger people who showed up, Cosby said.

Phil Cosby met with City Councilman Curtis Chatham, who got behind the idea once he understood the nature of the event and played a big part in it running smoothly, said Cosby. Mayor Bob Courtney and the Madison Police Department were also receptive and Courtney attended to listen but not speak, Cosby said.

That played to the strength of the protest, which at the end of the day was meant to open minds, bring people together and provide a platform for residents who want Madison to be a more accepting place, he said.

“That group that showed up there, they’re willing to drop all of that — the Republican, the Democrat, the black or white, the rich, the poor — they were willing to drop that just to come together as a community and just say ‘Hey, we know that the world is crazy right now, but this is what we want to see in our community: inclusion, acceptance, equality.’ And that was the beautiful part of all of that, and it was truly the meaning behind this protest,” Cosby said.