The Columbus transplant talks about eradicating racism.

Human resources professional, artist and activist Kiara Yakita moved to Columbus from Cincinnati two years ago. The 31-year-old, who is finishing her bachelor’s degree in business (with a human resources management focus) through Walden University, has long been involved in the activist community. 

“I was a part of the original Black Lives Matter movement when Trayvon Martin was killed; I was protesting back at that time,” Yakita says. When the May killing of George Floyd reenergized that movement, she started attending the Downtown protests despite not knowing many people in Columbus, let alone the organizers of those protests. 

“I just went out to the protests and joined, and I just kept going. I ended up leading a march from Goodale Park to the Statehouse. Ever since then, I’ve just had this leadership role kind of thrust at me, so I’ve been organizing, giving speeches, leading marches, holding events, things like that.”

In July, she founded Black Lives Matter Central Ohio, an unofficial chapter of the national BLM movement. She also created the Sisterhood for Black Lives, a coalition of 10 Black women with leadership roles in local activist organizations.

Columbus Monthly connected with Yakita via Zoom shortly after a late-August rally in Old Worthington that she organized to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officers the day before. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

The Facebook page for Black Lives Matter Central Ohio points out that the organization isn’t an official chapter of the national BLM organization. What can you tell us about that separation?

I know that we and other people within Columbus, and within other cities and states as well, have been trying to establish Black Lives Matter chapters, but we can’t seem to get any response from the organization on establishing new chapters. We felt like Central Ohio would be an excellent place for that, because we've got Columbus, which is really strong within the movement; Cincinnati and Cleveland are doing that thing. So just to represent Central Ohio—or the tristate area, even—[would] have a lot of advantages for us. 

But since we're not able to get the response, we're like, OK, we're a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. We share many of the same principles. And although we are not the[official] Black Lives Matter organization, we are still aligned with that movement. … There are so many other organizations involved in the movement that aren't just Black Lives Matter.

What are some of the main goals or principles of Black Lives Matter Central Ohio?

So one of the main premises that we have is to eradicate the problem at its source, which is racism. We understand—and I always talk about in my speeches—that we can't change hearts. We can't change the way people feel internally. I can't go and convert every racist person to be [an antiracist] person. That's work of the heart; that's work that we can't do. That's something that the person has to do.

But what we canchange is policy. If we create and foster policy that makes it very, very difficult, if not impossible, to work in a way and operate in a way that utilizes systemic racism to hold other people back, deny opportunities, make it more difficult for people to do things based on their skin color—if we can alter policy, then we can make it more difficult for racism to exist within this country. Systemic racism is extremely dangerous. … Just knowing that racism is in so many industries is terrifying. So we're working to eliminate and then completely eradicate that. 

And then also the police, the issue with the police violence and murders against African Americans in this country is reaching a level of being like another pandemic within itself. A lot of people get confused and think that this movement is only about the police. It is not. This movement is about fighting racism. The police and their brutality and murdering and lack of justice when doing so is a symptom of that problem of racism. So we do need to address that. 

And then also voting. We definitely want to educate and mobilize minority communities on the importance of voting, especially now. This election is not a joke; people's lives are at stake. This vote and the results can literally kill people. 

To follow up on the matter of voting: What message do you have for people who feel like neither major party candidate really represents or cares about them?

Not voting is not an option at this point. … I can't direct people on exactly how to vote. But if you look at the current president and his administration and the way that they respond to us—we have a huge population in this country, and in the entire world, that is fed up and angry and participating in this movement. And then we have a president calling us rioters and looters and threatening us with the National Guard, threatening us with the feds, threatening us with life sentences, all for protesting, you know? 

The dangerous thing is that the media is using terms, "rioters and looters," even though we're not rioting and looting. So now I've noticed, whenever you see racist people, white supremacists on social media, the first thing they go to is calling us rioters and looters. And I'm like, OK, well, tell me how many riots have we had in Columbus since this started? Not one. I've been there almost every single day. 

Well, to play devil’s advocate here, there was some damage done Downtown, businesses broken into, graffiti. Are you saying that wasn’t done by anyone who was actively protesting as part of the BLM movement?

Absolutely! Because I had been down there from the first weekend through Father's Day, the Fourth of July; I spent so much time down there. And when we were down there, so many of us were livestreaming the entire day. … And the businesses, the graffiti, things like that were not happening during the day when we were there. The protesters end up leaving around 9 or 10 o'clock. A few of them will stay after, but they usually stay at the Statehouse. So these buildings that were getting destroyed and the graffiti that was going up, that wasn't us. 

What are your thoughts on reform versus defunding versus abolishing the police? Do you think reform is possible?

It's very difficult to say at this point. So there are some individuals who want to completely abolish the police, like they moved to do in some other cities, and then there's individuals who want to defund. Which, there's been a lot of confusion about that, but it just means take away a little bit of the funding and apply it to services that can help prevent escalated situations and negative behaviors. And then there's people who just simply want to reform through training. I think we need to do a combination of things. There doesn't have to be just one method to solve this problem.

We have the Fraternal Order of Police in Columbus. …  I think we need to definitely get a closer look into the Fraternal Order of Police.

We definitely need to change the training. If there's not going to be a move to completely abolish the police, the training needs to change. Whether they need to be trained on diversity—being in these neighborhoods, going back to community policing, where you're bonding with the community and not just looking at them as these big, scary thugs that you just have to beat up and kill. They need to be reinforced to use non-lethal methods. I don't think it's that they don't know how [to use non-lethal tactics], or that in a split decision, they don't have a choice. Because why are they not shooting other races in the back 20 times, seven times? It just keeps disproportionately occurring. It's targeted. Why are the Black officers not out here killing people like this? So they need to focus on the training.

And I am definitely one for defunding, because the budget for the police is so bloated. We need to move that and allocate those funds into other parts of our communities. … I think there's multiple paths to creating solutions within this. We definitely don't have to feed just from one straw.

What are some of the major challenges and accomplishments Black Lives Matter Central Ohio has seen since you founded it?

The biggest hurdles that we've seen is just the opposition from people who know nothing about us. They just hear the name, and they automatically have all these opinions and want to shoot things down. We've been reached out to by the media, from multiple sources. We've had ABC record our events, NBC, we had someone else from the Columbus Dispatch. We've had GrassRoot [Ohio] radio. People within the media reaching out, and they're trying to show that we are out here trying to create positive change, but regardless of that, people just refuse to listen. They don't wantto know. They don't want to understand. They just want to be angry and hate us. 

And what are some next steps for the organization?

We want to definitely continue the community outreach, getting out into these neighborhoods, helping people. We also want to continue to provide platforms to artists, businesses, things like that. 

We are partnering with Davante Goins of the UnBossed Network, which is a Black-owned news station that he's working on. So we're working with him to provide exposure to the community for these Black businesses, artists, performers, things like that. 

We want to keep the momentum going within the movement, inspire people and provide a voice to the movement, working with people and other organizations that may not necessarily be Black Lives Matter-related directly, but people that we believe can help. Like for instance, working with organizations that look out for prison inmates, when in most of our prisons, we have a disproportionate population of African Americans. So partnering with other organizations and seeing how we can assist them and then provide our platform as well. 

We definitely want to raise awareness and make sure that this movement, isn't just some crazy summer of 2020 that people will look back [on]. We want this to be something that goes on for generations.

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