Since the protests that began in June following the tragic deaths of several Black men and women, the Black Lives Matter movement has traveled to the forefront of social issues in the U.S. These protests in cities around the nation, including Atlanta, have inspired Georgia State students to flex their activist muscles.
Protesting is not new to Panthers, as the first protests on the Atlanta campus occurred in the 1960s. In 2020, protesting continues for Georgia State students as the university’s Black student population amplifies their voices for Black Lives Matter.
Matthew Harmon is a Georgia State journalism student and a member of the Epsilon Nu Chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. Harmon has been a vocal advocate for voting rights and encourages Georgia State students to be more politically involved. He helped manage the first student-run polling location on a college campus in March 2020.
Now, he’s tackling another large-scale social issue.
Harmon has been attending multiple protests in Atlanta in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. His motives to protest include helping to bring justice to the families of police brutality victims, police reform and the removal of statues of historical racists in the city.
Harmon believes protesting is necessary to achieve the demands of justice that he and others who protest call for. He is passionate about using his voice to help end racial injustices.
“What pushed me to get involved was the absolute need for reform [in] all American social institutions, to eliminate the systemic racial bias in which they have functioned off of since their very beginnings,” Harmon said. “One such change I have been involved in is the removal of the Confederate memorials outside of the Georgia Capitol.”
Harmon is especially keen on the removal of the statue commemorating Georgia’s 53rd governor, John Brown Gordon, who was a Confederate general and leader of Georgia’s Ku Klux Klan. His statue is displayed on the northeastern grounds of the Georgia State Capitol.
“We have been out at the Capitol nearly daily chanting, ‘Tear Down Gordon,’” Harmon said. “While monument removal is just a bullet on the long list of steps needed to achieve a more racially equitable America, it is an important one.”
Despite the grim circumstances that influence these protests, Harmon recalls some positive moments he has experienced while protesting.
“Nearly every day of peaceful protests I have been a part of, I have been astounded by the beautiful displays of humanity and unity I have seen out there,” he said. “I’ve seen children, students, working folks, senior citizens, basically all generations banding together for the same cause.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has discouraged large gatherings of people, but despite safety concerns, protesters feel that the cause they are fighting for is worth putting their health at risk.
“Protesting during a pandemic definitely presents an added and unique level of danger for everybody out there assembling,” Harmon said.
He added that medics and civilians are “hyper-aware” of the dangers surrounding those involved in protests and work together to ensure the safety of demonstrators. Harmon mentioned that masks and hand sanitizer at protests have been generously distributed and social distancing is in effect.
“Protesting while social distancing has not only been possible, but it’s been easy and has not at all taken away from the power of the movement,” he said.
As an additional precaution, Harmon and other demonstrators he personally knows have frequently tested for COVID-19.
Harmon’s efforts to end racial injustice do not cease at protesting. He has discussed the purpose of Black Lives Matter with his friends in Georgia State Greek organizations to keep them informed.
“As far as having discussions with some of my friends in Greek, I do so frequently because I may be able to share some of my knowledge or information that can help them contextualize what’s happening with the [Black Lives Matter] movement,” he said. “But, it’s never an argument.”
According to Harmon, many members of Greek organizations on campus have protested multiple times over the course of the last month and are generally knowledgeable about the issue, sharing the same sentiments as him.
“I don’t feel like I have to explain to them why the movement is necessary; they know,” he said. “Greek at [Georgia State] is generally more diverse and socially literate than the standard Greek life students you’d expect from other big schools.”
He noted that other young, White students like himself are reflecting on their privilege and using it to make a difference.
“White and privileged people of our age are generally very disconnected from the reality of Black life in America,” Harmon said. “But I feel like those from [Georgia State] are becoming aware of their privilege, reckoning with it, then taking what they learn to try to help enact change at whatever level they can.”
He hopes to one day see the fruits of his labor and witness a metamorphosis of America’s social institutions and an end to racial inequality, resulting in a country that truly ensures “liberty and justice for all.”