Youth activist pushes to make city a better place

Frankie Gist is one of the leaders of the youth social justice movement here in Winston-Salem.

Youth activist pushes to make city a better place
July 08
14:38 2020

At just 24 years of age, Frankie Gist has already left a positive mark on the city of Winston-Salem and according to him, he is just getting started.

Gist organized several protests last month in response to the recent killings of unarmed Black men and women across the country. His protests were so organized and peaceful that they contributed to Winston-Salem being the only major city in the Triad area to not institute a curfew.

Hailing from the north side of Winston-Salem, Gist has been interested in social activism since the Trayvon Martin tragedy back in 2012. He said local gun violence against people he knew personally also contributed to his drive for peace.

“When I was in ninth grade and Trayvon Martin was killed, I was crying in class and I can remember it like it was yesterday,” said Gist about what sparked his interest in social justice.  “I looked at my principal and she looked at me and said, ‘What do you think we should do Frankie?’  I was very upset and told her I wanted to protest, so from that day on, I have been into activism.

“I realized once I got into activism that it wasn’t just a Black versus white thing, or just a police brutality, I want to stop the gun violence everywhere. That is my goal.”

Gist says one of the biggest motivating factors for his work is “the people.”  

“I love my people and I love my city,” he said. “If there is a way I can motivate, encourage and uplift my brothers and sisters of all races, because I am not just looking at the Black community where I come from, I am talking about all of the communities that I am connected to.”

Gist has been pushing for the end of gun violence in the city prior to the recent protests. He has called for an end to the gang violence that sometimes pops up around the city. He said the reason he chose to protest recently was because he was simply “tired and frustrated” at what he was seeing happening to unarmed Black men and women in these United States.

“Those three individuals (George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor) changed my life forever, because they made me appreciate my life even more as a Black man and as a father,” said Gist. “That was the reason I was out here, because that could have easily been me or my son. I have a son and he has to grow up one day and if me protesting today will keep that from happening to him in the future, then that is reason enough for me to be out here.

“It was what happened to them that motivated me to get out here and protest these past few weeks. It was senseless, it wasn’t right, and something has to be done.”

All the protests led by Gist were peaceful and no looting or rioting occurred like in other cities. He said he made being peaceful a point of emphasis for anyone who wanted to participate.

“As a leader you must be the first partaker of peace,” he said. “I had to be peaceful in the words that I said, the way I walked and the way I moved.”

Gist says his interactions with law enforcement during the protests were eye opening. The conversations that took place between Gist and Winston-Salem Police Chief Katrina Thompson were very productive, he said.

“When she (Thompson) came out to the march and she walked up to me and said ‘Frankie, I want to thank you’ and I said ‘Who are you?’ and she replied, ‘I’m Chief Thompson,’ was great,” Gist said of his encounter with Thompson. “The way she spoke, walked with us and stood with us, it did something to me. I had to remember to look at all officers differently, because not all officers are bad, some of them are good people.

“Interacting with Chief Thompson and Sherriff Kimbrough has been great. These two individuals have been a big help to my movement; I can’t speak for anyone else’s. They represent everything I have been saying about the Winston-Salem Police Department, because I have a great relationship with them.”

There have been rumblings from individuals in the city about the youth movement in the city that has not been very positive. Gist says he is aware of his detractors and would prefer to work with them instead of criticizing the work of the younger generation.

“I already know that my name came up and it’s because they are mad that we are doing things that they can’t do,” he said about those who have said negative things about the youth social justice movement. “They are mad that me and my team brought out over 2,000 people downtown and they are only bringing 20. It’s not about the people, it’s about the move we are making, because we are changing lives.

“Why are they hating on the young generation that started a movement that can’t be stopped? This is one of the largest civil rights movements in history, why are they not happy for the younger generation standing up? We could be out here on the corner selling drugs. So, when I hear the older generation are hating, all I can say to them is wake the hell up and get with this program. This isn’t Dr. King and Malcolm X days; this is Frankie Gist and them days, we are on a different wave with it.”

According to Gist, the movement will not stop with protests, they want to see actual change. On July 18, Gist and his associates will host a peace rally at Winston Square Park.

“The theme for this peace rally is ‘what’s next’,” said Gist. “We are not protesting, but we are rallying together to get people in one place to say ‘Hey, you are protesting with no agenda or destination.’ If you’re protesting with no demands, you’re protesting for exercise.

“We are getting people together to gather a list of demands of what we can bring forth and when we get this list together, we are going to strategically make a plan to sit at the table. No protesting anymore, we want to sit at the table.”

Love is one the easiest and best remedies for solving issues between individuals, Gist said. He feels if more people show love and not hate, there would be better relationships between people of color and white people, as well as with people of color and law enforcement.

Gist gives all the credit to God for “anointing” him with the spirit of social justice.  

“It’s not me, it’s him that works through me, because he gave me the gift,” said Gist. “I am just a vessel being used, so all I can say is to God be the glory.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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