Until this summer, Amara Rhoads and Ibukun Sokoya never thought they’d be helping lead a nonprofit organization.
The Long Reach High School graduates, along with 15 other 18- to 21-year-olds in Howard County, organized the largest protest in county history on June 2. Thousands gathered in the AMC Columbia 14 movie theater parking lot eight days after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed at the hands of the Minneapolis police in late May.
Now, the group is taking its next step. Spurred by the Black Lives Matter protests, HoCo For Justice has achieved nonprofit status and just put on its first community event.
“It’s about the community, and we need to recognize we can have an impact in our community,” said Rhoads, the group’s director of community outreach. “After the protest, we recognized the platform and the effect we can have in the community. We realized there’s more work to be done. Protesting can only take you so far. So we have to get out there and find other ways to connect with people.”
For the past two weekends, the group has organized a small back-to-school drive at the Waterloo Park pavilion in Elkridge to provide children in the community with school supplies amid the start of virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Sept. 5 and 6, the group accepted donations from the community; on Sept. 12 and 13, they gave the backpacks out to families in need.
“We want to help people in need who live in this community,” said Sokoya, HoCo For Justice’s deputy director of community outreach. “Sometimes in Howard County people don’t know that there are people in need here, but that’s not the case at all.”
Rhoads, 20, a Long Reach Class of 2018 graduate and current Stevenson University student, said the group is “extremely thankful” for the dozen families in the community who gave supply donations as well as about $200.
“They were so generous and showed us a lot of love,” Rhoads said. “Some of them had boxes and suitcases of stuff. It was very heart-warming to see how helpful the community was. We’re extremely grateful.”
In total, the group had enough supplies and donation money to fill 50 backpacks full of folders, notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, pencil cases and paper, as well as handwritten notes from the group to encourage students. Rhoads said they handed out about 15 to 20 backpacks at the event, and then the group used its connections within the community with group leaders and guidance counselors to place the remaining supplies in the hands of families who need them.
“I’ve always loved learning,” Rhoads said. “I know my favorite time of the year was going school shopping and picking out my school supplies and having different colored folders. I know this isn’t the same experience, but we did try to give them variety. I was very happy with how everything turned out and to help families who may not be able to financially provide everything.”
Starting a nonprofit wasn’t the goal of the group initially.
The group, which has a mission of dismantling racial injustices against Black and brown people, received nonprofit status three weeks ago and plans to continue to put on community events like the back-to-school drive.
“This has all been organic,” Rhoads said. “We had only all met three days before the protest. We planned it in 72 hours, and it caught us all off guard. We did that first protest, and it took off from there.”
HoCo For Justice is already starting to plan its next events, such as a food drive, a clothing drive and an event about the 2020 election and voting. Rhoads and Sokoya, a Long Reach Class of 2017 and current student at Towson University, both said they’re excited for the future of the group.
“Some people wonder what they can do; this is something young people can do,” said Sokoya, 21. “We can help to create change. Coming into this, I just wanted to protest. But now, I see that it’s definitely possible to do something huge and keep that momentum going. If we can encourage more high school and young people to do the same, that would be great.”