Change in the Powell Community: Making an Anti-Racist Environment


Abby Turner

After the death of George Floyd on May 25th, former Liberty graduate and now Pace University Junior Ali VanZwieten called it upon herself to address racism to the Powell, Ohio community. In her message, VanZwieten discussed the current state of race relations in the country and provided links for helpful educational resources. Her post received praise from the online Facebook community on the group “The Powell Bubble,” but she knew it wasn’t enough.

“Deep in my heart, even though I said that and it was received well, I knew that those conversations were only going to last a few days or they were not going to be that deep. They were going to be based on implicit bias, based on who specifically is racist, and not based on a system, like systematic oppression or history of violence against Black people and POC in America,” VanZwieten said.

But as tensions grew around the country, and protests started in downtown Columbus, Ohio, Facebook posts began to turn into arguments.

Arguments and opposition strengthened as Parker Britt, Delaware Hayes Senior, and former Liberty Student, pitched the idea of holding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Powell.

“Powell is mostly conservative and so when I proposed the idea of a protest, many people pushed the idea away because they immediately went to ‘what if ANTIFA finds out? what if the businesses are looted?’ which definitely hindered the movement in Powell,” Britt said.

Others in the Powell community interpreted Black Lives Matter as a way of saying only black lives matter, but as Britt said, “BLM isn’t intended in any way to say Blacks are more important; it’s simply to want value for all lives which includes black lives.”

Although there was a backlash in the community from certain citizens, a peaceful protest occurred on June 2nd in Downtown Powell, Ohio.

“All the people who came out and supported the protest pushed past those boundaries and showed that a peaceful protest is possible,” Britt said.

But as the summer progressed and #BLM stopped trending on Twitter, the dialogue of change silenced. VanZwieten posted again in the Facebook group “The Powell Bubble” in early August. This time, she called upon the racism in Powell and how she, as a white woman, witnessed it happen in the schools. She encouraged parents to continue teaching their children how to be anti-racist to create a more welcoming and safe community.

Many in the Powell community took this as a personal attack, believing that taking steps to be anti-racist translated to being anti-white. Comments ranged from “Good grief” to “This message has no place on the bubble. Preach elsewhere”.

“When you’re not ready to take accountability for how your actions and words have been violent and impacted people, it’s received as an attack,” VanZwieten said. She later explains how unlearning racist tendencies can be an encouraging thing from peers. She thanks her friends when they call her out on things she does or says that she didn’t realize was harmful.

Progress has since been at a standstill since the June protest and VanZwieten’s post in August, which Britt believes is due to the political climate in Powell.

“Until people realize this has nothing to do with being conservative or liberal, we can’t make much progress. If people still see this as a political issue then both parties will find things to disagree about unless we take the time to educate ourselves about why it’s not political,” Britt said.

Both Britt and VanZwieten think the place to start with teaching anti-racism begins in our schools, as VanZwieten puts it, “Education is elevation”.

Although Britt doesn’t see schools as the end-all-be-all of racism in Powell, she does believe that “schools can create clubs and organizations can be formed to make Blacks in our community feel safer, but nothing is going to change unless people start realizing that what’s happening in the world is hurting many people.”