A first-time protester takes Cardinal & Pine inside her quest to convene a ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in rural Duplin County.
Brittney Pickett was inspired seeing Black Lives Matter protests spring up this month in cities across the country, including in neighboring small towns of her rural stretch of eastern North Carolina.
But missing from that growing list of towns hosting protests was her hometown of Beulaville, a town of 1,300 in Duplin County. The 26-year-old has lived there her entire life.
That’s when Pickett, a single mother who works as an assistant manager at a Zaxby’s and part-time for a healthcare agency, decided she would take matters into her own hands.
Pickett organized Beulaville’s first Black Lives Matter protest Sunday in the town’s historic downtown, securing permits and working out security plans ahead of time with the town police chief.
“This is my first time ever doing something like this,” Pickett said. “For me to actually have that courage within myself and take charge of something so powerful ‑ it felt really, really good.”
Turnout was modest, about 20 to 30 locals. But Pickett spoke at Sunday’s protest, calling for an end to police brutality. She also called for better opportunities for herself and other Black residents in the area.
In Duplin County, a quarter of the approximately 59,000 residents are Black. Half are white, and Latinos make up approximately 22% of the remaining population. It’s a conservative county as well, with President Donald Trump earning nearly 60 percent of the county’s vote in 2016. Indeed, Trump made a campaign stop in the rural NC county in 2016.
Duplin County struggles economically, with average household incomes below that of the state average and one out of every five people living below the poverty line. Most jobs link back to the areas agriculture, hog and poultry industries. That’s also made the county a hotspot for COVID-19 cases. Duplin currently leads the state in the most COVID-19 cases per capita.
‘I Wanted Them To Witness This’
Protesting isn’t something Pickett normally thinks about.
She’s busy. In addition to her two jobs, Pickett is the mother of two daughters, Ta’Keira, 6, and Bri’Elle, 1.
But George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody last month prompted her to do more.
On Sunday, she and her daughters wore matching Black Live Matter shirts. Demonstrtors chanted Floyd’s name, as well as the names of other Black Americans like Breonna Taylor killed during police interactions. She hopes her daughters realize one day how significant these Black Lives Matter protests are and take pride at being at the Beulaville protest.
“I wanted them to witness this,” Pickett said. “They can look back one day and say to their kids: ‘I was part of a protest. Your grandma was part of the protest. She led a protest.’”
Pickett is already making plans to organize another, to ensure the message that Black Lives Matter is heard in her small town.