BEMIDJI -- George Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests, both in the area and around the country, "struck the waters" for Janelle Johnson.

Johnson and other members of the community, after having some tough conversations, decided to form a new social justice organization called Project for Change.

The organization’s mission is to act as “a local, nonprofit, non-partisan change group, formed on building awareness, creating social opportunities, and enriching the quality of life for historically marginalized, disadvantaged, oppressed, and resilient Black and Brown communities through policy, accountability, and action.”

Project for Change will be debuting publicly with a protest of its own this Monday: the "Protest to Policy to Progress" rally.

Project for Change’s goals

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As a spokesperson for Project for Change, Johnson explained how it all began: “There was a group of us that after (the initial local protests) we kind of debriefed together and had a conversation, ‘We’ve got to do more for our community,’ because the George Floyd killing was just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We all have our own stories about living inside of Bemidji, having our children go to school in Bemidji and we are just looking for a better way to make it more comfortable for all of us.”

The group has a number of goals, Johnson explained, “At the end of the day, our goal is to work toward a greater Bemidji. A Bemidji that everyone can feel comfortable inside of, not just a select few.”

Project for Change aims to continue the conversation of social and criminal justice reform within the community with the goal of policy change that results in a more equitable Bemidji, organizers said.

“It’s also to educate the community on social injustices as well as help try to build a better race relationship, overall for the whole community, and with the police department,” Johnson added.

The group hopes to eventually work with the local educational systems as well.

“We also plan to get very active within our schools and our school board to change how our children and Black and Brown children are treated inside of the school system,” Johnson said.

Safety protocols

Organizers ensured Minnesota Department of Health gathering guidelines will be strictly enforced. Masks are required and will be provided to those who do not have one. Hand sanitizer will be available for attendee use. Social distancing will be practiced. Announcements will be made reminding people to maintain their distance and follow hygiene protocols to decrease their risk of infection, organizers said.

Event schedule

The rally will take place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 7, at Paul Bunyan Park. Organizers are expecting an estimated 200 attendees. The event will feature live music, drawings and speakers.

On the speaking line up for the event are: David Frison, Sierra Charwood, Crystal Gail Welcome, Alyson Allen, Del Shea Perry and Zoe Christenson. Organizers said the speakers will address a variety of social justice issues of concern.

“We’re just excited about living and being in a community that’s great, and we are excited about it being greater,” Johnson said. “We are excited about the changes to come.”

To learn more about the organization or the upcoming rally, visit www.projectforchange.org.