Jerry Banks and a Conversation About Advocacy

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Cheyenne Jericho Alan Banks is a new student at Marymount Manhattan College, but he’s already made quite the impact. While most people might know him from a viral picture of him holding a sign at the BLM protests that reads “Dear White People: Stop Using Dr. King As An Example of a Peaceful Protest… YOU SHOT HIM TOO,” his friends know him as Jerry from Springfield, Illinois.

When Banks is not watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta and Glee, belting Ariana Grande songs and manifesting greatness into his life, he’s campaigning for social and racial justice by protesting and advocating for both equality and equity among the black community. 

Many people shy away from labeling themselves as activists in this day in age because of the repercussions that come with the title, but Banks wears his badge proudly. 

“I would say yes, I am an activist. While I might not always be on the front lines of a protest, I am utilizing my social media platforms to educate my friends and followers daily,” Banks said in an interview.

Pullquote Photo

My activism stems from my skin. The African diaspora has faced nothing but hardships, ridicule, and death at the hands of this country, this world even, so I feel like if I’m not using my voice to uplift my people and speak out against these wrongdoings, then my voice is wasted. Empty noise on a playing field.

— Jerry Banks

This kind of activism is especially important with the rising deaths of the black community at the hands of law enforcement officers. According to statistics by the  Mapping Police Violence database, Black people have been 28% of those killed by police in 2020 despite being only 13% of the population. Two recent and popular deaths were 26-year old Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March during a raid on her apartment, and George Floyd, a 46-year old black man, who unconscious and pinned beneath three police officers of the Minneapolis Police, showing no signs of life after Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 15 seconds.

“With the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the movement has been on everyone’s minds. I don’t think you could physically go a day without seeing BLM written somewhere, whether it’s a building, a sign, or on social media.  I think the movement is playing a key role just by being everywhere. It’s almost forcing everyone, non-POC mostly, to have a conversation about the injustices that Black people face daily.”

These deaths, along with many others have led to a string of protests in almost every part of the world. This uproar of activism among people all over the world has created a conversation about race in which people have no choice but to listen and understand. 

Despite the facts and the video footage of Taylor and Floyd’s deaths, many protests were looked at as “violent demonstrations” and “riots” but Banks had a different experience when he was protesting in his home state of Illinois. 

“I have been met with nothing but love and fervor at the protests I have attended. I know that there are so many people who are not scared to let their racism shine and who might purposefully hurt someone but thankfully I have never encountered a person like this or been in any violent situation. I have made so many friends at protests and made so many networking connections, so besides the protesting part, I’ve had a generally nice experience.”

Banks continued, “Martin Luther King Jr. once said that ‘A riot is the language of the unheard.’ While I am fully aware that rioting does not equal protesting, I think they can be interchangeable for this specific situation. As long as the United States continues to let officers get away with literal murder people are going to protest. Until the system listens to our grievances and does something to make a change, we will be protesting.”

Banks’s support for the BLM movement and radical change from positions of power did not go unnoticed. Just hours before a photo of him was taken holding a sign at the George Floyd protest, he had just graduated high school, but little did he know, two memorable things were going to happen that day.  

“I remember being very antsy and ready for everything to be over so I could go protest,” Banks explained. “I’m a very spiritual person and something was telling me that this protest was going to be so important for me but I would have never guessed what would happen next.

The unplanned photo was meant to be small and significant to Banks himself. It was only a picture that documented the fact that he was there and it showed what he stands for, but it quickly gained popularity on the internet. The post that was originally posted to his social media soon had over 800 shares and was now all over the internet. From German politicians, Chinese blogs, Russian forums, and into the sight of Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King who saw the photo and shared it on Twitter where it amassed half a million likes and 140K retweets.

“It’s such an interesting feeling to know that millions of people all across the GLOBE have seen your face. Jump to a month later, This thrust me into a bigger world of love, hate, recognition, and hope. I know for a fact that this photo is only the first part of my legacy and I can’t wait for what the near future brings me.”

While Banks has spent so much time being an activist, he also takes the time to sing and film his own videos. He has a Youtube channel launching soon, so for a deeper insight into Jerry Banks and his life, so I’d definitely check that out.

Banks is a great example of showing that advocacy can come from any of us and that our triumphs won’t go unnoticed because you always make an impact on the world with everything you do. Banks like to remind himself that “I can’t wait until I become renowned” and I think that is the kind of energy that we should all carry with us in these unfamiliar times. You are renowned, you are great, and your work is never finished.