MONROE — Brandishing a megaphone, wearing a mask with the words “I can’t breathe” written on it, and walking side-by-side with the Mayor, Isaiah Cole lead a seemingly endless line of peaceful marchers through the streets of Monroe on Thursday morning.
The former Monroe High School football standout had announced the Justice March for George Floyd just three days earlier, and he thought he might get 30-50 participants. Instead, a crowd of hundreds took to the streets to denounce the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement in the United States.
Protest organization had never been a part of Cole’s life plan. But his first stab at it produced incredible results.
“I appreciate Isaiah Cole for getting this thing together, man,” Michael Bumpus, Cole’s football coach at Monroe, told the crowd after the march reached its destination at Lake Tye Park. “I’m watching the news, I’m watching what’s going on all across the country, and I’ve got questions just like all of you have. What’s going on? And what can we do to try to make a change in this thing? And for this young man to step out in front of all the adults, all the people who have been here forever, all you youngsters, for this young man to step up and lead is awesome. I’m grateful for Isaiah Cole.”
Cole, who graduated from Monroe in 2018, was a three-sport athlete for the Bearcats, playing basketball in the winters and running track in the springs. But he left his biggest mark during falls on the football field, where he was a two-time second-team All-Area selection on offense. He’s now a sophomore receiver on the Whitworth University football team, this past season catching 15 passes for 89 yards.
Cole is studying criminal justice at Whitworth, and after protests broke out in the aftermath of Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer, he felt compelled to take action — and to do so peacefully.
Phone was dying, so this is a little late, but wanted to post one final thing. Here’s Isaiah Cole, the organizer of the Justice March for George Floyd in Monroe: pic.twitter.com/ohFOvj36Rs
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) June 4, 2020
“I was actually down in the protests in Seattle when they were burning cars and breaking windows last Saturday,” Cole said following Thursday’s march. “I saw that and I was disgusted because they are putting a stain on the Black Lives Matter movement and undermining all the positive messages that need to be heard. When you see that, the media just wanted to focus on that and not the message behind it. It was disgusting to me.
“I woke up on Monday and was like, ‘Maybe I should try,’” Cole continued. “I’ve never done this before, I just put it on Facebook. I wasn’t sure whether to go through with it or not, I didn’t know how to do it, I just wanted to march and chant. But I ended up being able to get speakers to be here and put it on Facebook. It started with maybe 10-15 people and grew very quickly.”
Twitter video max hit. No sign of the end of Monroe’s Justice March for George Floyd: pic.twitter.com/edrZ5qp5Pj
— Nick Patterson (@NickHPatterson) June 4, 2020
Cole and his brother, Caleb, met with Monroe Mayor Geoffrey Thomas and Monroe Chief of Police Jeffrey Jolley in advance of the march and received their blessing.
“They were just brutally honest,” Jolley said about the conversation with the brothers. “It was very easy to get on board with these young men. These are local Monroe kids who were raised in the community, grew up here, are now young adults. Their motivations were entirely pure. So these conversations were about what we could do to support them.”
Cole also arranged a series of speakers for the march’s conclusion, a group that included Bumpus, Thomas, Monroe High School teacher Michelle Patzelt, and an impassioned speech from community member Junelle Lewis.
Cole is multiracial, identifying as African American and white, and he said his experiences as an athlete of color at Monroe provided a portion of the perspective that compelled him to organize the march.
“In the community I never had had any big (instances of racism) I can remember,” Cole said. “I know my brother did a lot. He was the founder of the Black Student Union at Monroe High School. I know when I played other schools it might just have been competitiveness, but on the football field and basketball court especially I know racial slurs were a thing, trying to get in my head and stuff like that. It’s just sad that’s how low someone would stoop to win a game. When I think back on it that’s definitely something I brought into this.”
The events of the past two weeks, including leading a peaceful march that contained no incidents, have Cole re-evaluating his career path.
“I originally wanted to be a police officer, I’ve wanted to be a police officer since I was 6 years old,” Cole said. “A lot of the stuff that’s going on right now is making me second guess. But then again, if you want change you have to be in position to make change. So I’m definitely going to keep thinking about that. But civil rights and the Black rights movement is something I’m very passionate about, so I’ll probably see myself doing that in the future.”
And Cole’s final message to the public?
“Spread peace, love and positivity.”