Red Bank, SC (Paul Kirby) – Almon Hopkins is a resident of the Red Bank community. He’s a man of color who’s lived in Lexington County since 1996. He doesn’t mind saying he’s black and is surprised he’s become a local celebrity. Almon is the Red Bank Peaceful Protester that walks the corner of South Lake Drive and Two Notch Road every day.
Almon came here from Savannah, Georgia. He moved here to find better medical care for his sick mother. He’s been raised in the South and is approaching his 40s fast. He’s a man that’s experienced the challenges of being a minority but has hope for some changes he’s seen. Almon said his message is simple, all people matter, and everyone should be treated the same. He believes it’s a message many have in their hearts but just don’t have the time, the health, the courage, or the voice to spread this message themselves!
When George Floyd was choked to death by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Almon was disgusted like everyone else. He’s also smart enough to know that as long as police officers are people, this will happen again someday. “I ain't going to believe these things that happened will completely stop. As long as police are humans, some are going to do the bad things men do. You’re always going to have a few bad people in any bunch!” Almon said he’s not sure race had anything to do with the death of George Floyd. He thinks it could have been just a bad cop doing the wrong thing. “That’s why I’m saying, All Lives Matter! That guy could have easily been white.”
After seeing the George Floyd video, Almon wanted to let people hear his message of equality. He’s not a man of position or power, doesn’t have lots of money, but wanted to get that message out. After thinking about that a while, Almon decided he’d make a simple cardboard sign and he and a buddy would hold them at a busy intersection. That’s how he became Red Bank’s Peaceful Protester!
The pair started last Saturday, the same day the “I Can’t Breathe” protest in Columbia did. That went from a peaceful protest to a riot fast. “I ain’t for that either,”Almon said. “It’s just not right breaking into a man’s business, stealing, tearing it up, and setting things on fire! Burning cops’ cars only makes us look like thugs. That’s a riot and the message of changes switched to something that made us all look bad. I’m a peaceful protester, a guy that just wants to see the changes for the people I love.”
Almon says he’s experienced racism all his life. He’s been called the N-word, picked on, and treated like a second-class citizen, all because he’s black. He admits he’s been involved in our criminal justice system. He said he’s also experienced some racism there. “Someone who isn’t black won’t even understand. I’m not an angel by no means, I never said I was. I broke the law, got arrested, and spent some time in jail.” He said the people on the enforcement side of the criminal justice system, probably don’t realize they’re doing it but, “Some do treat you different because you’re black.”
On the streets he says he’s been questioned for what he thinks was just walking in the wrong part of town. “I’ve been pulled over because I was driving with a white girlfriend,” he said, and he believes some officers and people are still suspicious of him because of the color of his skin or the clothes he wears. “I do see it getting better as the world changes around us. It’s not as bad as it was, I think it’s getting better and better over time. I just hope for my son that one day, we’ll all be treated the same.”
Almon says he hopes things will draw equal for not just his son but his grandchildren, great grandchildren and all the black generations to come. “Things should be the same for all of us, it is headed that way, we just got a way to go.”
Almon says that the younger generations are less worried about color and think more about what’s inside a man. “You see more mixed marriages, mixed babies, groups of kids that are all colors. That ain’t a big deal for them.” He’s also noticed a difference in the attitudes of law enforcement and the younger grown-up generations. “Some younger adults just ain’t so quick to judge me by my color. Lots of the younger cops are different too,” Almon stated. “I think we are headed in the right way!”
When he took up his sign with his friend last Saturday, he did so because no one else in Lexington County seemed to be doing anything. “I knew lots of people want the changes we need, but they weren't making an effort to do anything to make their feelings known." He said many can’t get out and stand in the baking sun to shout that for themselves. "We’re just doing it in their place,” Almon said. “We’re standing up for everyone!”
What he couldn’t believe was the way he’s been received. He says people of all colors have honked their horns, waved out the window, and even stopped to say hello. Jessie Bowen couldn't contain himself and stopped in the middle of the road to give Almon a hug. “At first, I was kind of worried, this guy running toward me. When he just hugged me, man that brought tears to my eyes.” Almon says people have brought subs, food, water, Gatorade, they’ve done everything, and have been so nice. “We have been out in the road and some people had to slow down a second, swerve, or stop. We haven’t tried to mess up traffic, but when we do sometimes, just a couple people got mad.” He said a few yelled the N-word or shouted ugly things, but most just wave and give us time to run back to the curb.” Almon said, “One lady thought we were beggars and tried to give us money. I told her mam, we ain’t begging for money, we are pleading for justice! She just smiled and drove on.”
Almon says that sometimes it’s just him, and other times there may be a group. “People will stop with their kids; some want to take their picture with me. Some just want to say thanks. Others give me hugs, ask for a sign, or bring their own. They’ll join in for a while and the group grows. Sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s just me or my buddy.” Almon said the people who've stopped have been diverse. "Some are white, Mexican, or black, it don't matter to us and it don't seem to bother them." He said it really doesn’t matter the size of his group, it’s the number of people they reach with their message that’s important.
Almon says they plan to continue their peaceful protest everyday about 4:00 p.m. If anyone wants to join them, bring a sign, park in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot, and just jump right in. “We’ve had blacks, whites, brown people, everyone standing shoulder to shoulder, the more of a mix we have, the more the message will spread. All Lives Matter!”