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Roanoke organizers discuss why change is happening now

'When we first began, it was not popular...'

2020 has been unlike any year any of us have ever experienced.

ROANOKE, Va. – 2020 has been unlike any year any of us have ever experienced.

While the fight for equality is not a new effort, for some it is.

Below are moments from June’s prayer march and vigil now marked in Roanoke’s history. Moments of unity, peace and lament.

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June 6 prayer march and vigil in Roanoke, Virginia.

It’s these moments that Jojo Friday, the founder of Sisters of Change, has unknowingly spent the past three years working toward.

“It’s a different time and moment and it’s one we’ve been preparing for,” Friday said.

One could say she was created for such a time as this.

Diversity and unity are at the core of who Friday is as a person.

“I’m mixed. My father is white, and my mother is Black,” she said.

After growing up in an African-cultured village in Belize, in high school, she moved to Botetourt County.

In 2018, when Sisters of Change was birthed out of a desire to bring a diverse group of women together, Friday could have never imagined she would help organize an event that would attract hundreds.

“When we first began, it was not popular. I can remember we put on a summer bash, you know, to have everyone come and no one came,” Friday said.

She found it frustrating trying to lead others in our community to real change.

“It was a struggle only because they had never collaborated together past a zip code, or past a color, or past who they vote for,” Friday said.

She persevered, so when the cry for social justice reached fever pitch this year, Sisters of Change stepped out of the silent shadows and took center stage.

“We’re seen as the leader right now. There are people who have partnered with us who never did before this time, to be honest. There are people now whenever they do their events, we’re the first one to call,” said Friday.

Finally, glimpses of change for the woman who has worked so hard for years.

See our full interview with Jojo Friday:

So, what’s different now?

“We watched a man get killed in front of us on TV and anyone that can watch that and think that it’s okay, I mean, I would just really question that person,” said Beth Bell, founder of FemCity Roanoke and Macaroni Kid Roanoke. “We saw that over, over and over again, we’re all stuck at home because of COVID, so all eyes were on the TV and all eyes were on social media.”

FemCity Roanoke is a partner agency with Sisters of Change.

As a leader in the local business community, Bell has made it her mission to diversify the networking group after asking friends some tough questions.

“How come when certain people come to our group, they seem to make great connections and have support and then they never come back and part of that response was they don’t see themselves here,” said Bell.

She is now taking steps toward unity.

“I feel like where I’ve personally made a mistake for the past 20 years is thinking – Oh, it’s okay as long as I love my neighbor, I’m doing the best I can do - and I think the difference now is that I know that’s not enough,” Bell said.

“The next step is how do I change my circle in order to actually change our community and that’s the next step. In order to build that bridge, there needs to be kind, warm and loving guidance in order to take that to the next step,” Friday said.

Sisters of Change is hoping to serve the community as the connecting bridge.

“When people need leadership, it would be a disservice to my community not to rise up to it,” Friday said.

Sisters of Change has created a diversity course for businesses and non-profits interested in educating its employees. Friday teaches the curriculum.

About the Author:

After working and going to school in Central Virginia for over five years, Lindsey’s made her way back home to the mountains.