“No justice, no peace!”
“Silence is violence!”
“Black lives matter!”
Over the past few weeks, these chants have reverberated across the nation, as droves of people emerge from self-isolation and flood the streets each day to protest the senseless killing of George Floyd—an unarmed, African-American man who died beneath the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
Protesters are not only calling for the end of police brutality, but also for real change when it comes to broader racial injustices African-Americans experience daily.
Among those advocating for change is Francis Akintola, a 28-year-old Residential Counselor at SERV.
Born in Ibaban, Nigeria, Akintola immigrated to the United States in 1999, after his father won a Visa Lottery. Since then, he said, he has experienced first-hand “the rash of police brutality and systemic racism in our society.”
“It’s no secret that the Black community is suffering,” Akintola said. “It’s sad that it took the death of George Floyd for this protest to happen, but I’m glad people are finally pushing for change and having these difficult conversations.
“While we might not like to discuss racism, it’s a real issue that is affecting millions, and I’m encouraged to see so many people—people from all races and backgrounds—come together in solidarity to support this cause,” he added.
On Thursday, June 4, SERV released a statement against racism, violence, inequality, and discrimination. In it, the organization’s CEO, Regina Widdows, wrote, “We must remain committed to our mission and practice our core values daily.
“We must also continue to foster an environment that embraces diversity, growth, and cultural sensitivity—an environment where all people are seen and all voices are heard. Our identity is rooted in empowering everyone, and right now, it’s incumbent upon us to promote and support systemic change.”
Widdows concluded her statement with a call-to-action. “The path forward begins with courageous conversation and unity,” she wrote. “With that in mind, I ask that you reach out to your team members this week to see how they are doing. I ask that you embrace all opinions, not just those that align with your own. I ask that you show compassion for those who are scared, suffering, or navigating unseen circumstances. And finally, I ask that you join me and everyone on the leadership team in continuing to advocate for real, lasting change.”
Widdows’ statement resonated with Akintola, who said, “Right now, many people are struggling to find a way to voice their frustrations, and it’s uplifting to know we have the support of leadership. Her words truly were inspiring.”
Akintola joined the SERV Team in December of 2019. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from William Paterson University.
In addition to his work at SERV, Akintola is a student at Rutgers University, where he is working towards a Master’s Degree in Social Work and serves as Co-Chair of the school’s Student Government.
There are several different ways we can all protest peacefully, according to Akintola, who intends to continue using his voice and influence to shed light on the issues affecting people of color.
“Whether it’s marching down the street, signing petitions, or posting on social media, there a number of ways we can all make an impact without resorting to rioting and violence,” he said. “We should all do our part to spread awareness, but we need to do it peacefully.”
Akintola and his classmates are planning to hold a social awareness event this summer, wherein they will discuss how to end systemic racism and prevent police brutality in New Jersey. During the event, they will offer local police officers a chance to express their opinions, as well.