Winston-Salem protest organizer describes life on the front lines of local protests

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Frankie Gist is tired.

He’s tired emotionally. And although he doesn’t really show it, he’s got to be tired physically.

You see, Frankie’s been organizing, leading and speaking (very loudly) at most of the recent George Floyd protests in his hometown of Winston-Salem against racial injustice and police brutality.

“We have zero tolerance for police brutality,” he told me recently during an internet interview. “We have zero tolerance for injustice. We want everyone to have equal rights.”

I first met Frankie a year ago this summer. He had organized some other, similar protests during the weeks prior to that first meeting.

He told me his passion for leading events like these stems from his own earlier encounters with the law. Several years ago he was arrested on breaking and entering as well as assault charges.

But the judge hearing his case challenged him to go out and lead people in a positive way. He then took up motivational speaking and organized youth-centered neighborhood gatherings.

That led to what we’ve seen locally after George Floyd’s death. Non-violence has been a key.

“Because violence doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “I want the people in the world and the city to look at the TV and say, ‘Hey, listen to what they’re saying’ instead of ‘look at how they’re acting.’”

Gist says he understands the recent “defund the police” movement. But isn’t pushing it locally.

“I feel like in Minnesota, it (the ‘defund’ movement) is necessary. I feel like in Atlanta, it’s necessary,” he said. “But in our city, it’s not.”

“The Winston-Salem Police Department has showed so much respect to us while we’re doing our protests. They don’t have attitudes.”

He also told me the most surprising moment happened when members of four different local gangs tied their flags together in a show of unity during one of the downtown demonstrations.

“And they said we’re going to rock with and walk behind this man. And we’re going to stand behind this man. And we’re not going to allow this to be the only day we do this,” he said.

And in terms of all the divisiveness in our society, Gist says it’ll take one thing to solve it: love.

“Love doesn’t see color. Love doesn’t see age. Love doesn’t see what these people do on a day-to-day basis. What love sees is the heart. And the only way we can get there, Neill, is through leadership like myself, like you showing love to others,” he told me.

“Love is the only way we’re going to have change in our communities and peace in our communities.”

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