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Mother-daughter activist duo hit their stride on the streets of Denver

//Ashira Campbell and her mother Porshai Campbell stand in front of a police line and blow whistles during a noise demonstration on July 19, 2020. Photo by Madeleine Kelly | mkellyindependent@gmail.com

In the bitter cold of November, Black Lives Matter protesters and members of the Proud Boys stood on a street corner arguing about politics after an Elijah McClain rally. Nearby was mother and daughter, Porshai and Ashira Campbell. 

At one point, Ashira herself talks to one of the Proud Boys. The moment was caught on video. With kindness and understanding, she challenged his ideas. Confronted with empathy, the Proud Boy calls himself dumb, and too old to change. 

Ashira, though, thinks differently. 

“You’re acknowledging that you can change. You don’t need to call yourself dumb or call yourself stupid,” Ashira said. “You’re not.” 

That moment, as well as Ashira’s encouragement that he was capable of change and to think positively about himself, went viral.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death in May 2020, Denver’s city streets brimmed with protesters demanding justice and police reform. In the midst of the protests, one mother and daughter used their passion for justice to not only advocate for change but also brought them closer together.

Before their involvement in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, both Porshai and her daughter Ashira understood the racism and brutality plaguing the American justice system. As African American women, they are no strangers to the racial inequality that is so pervasive within the culture of the United States. Ashira said racism entered her daily life as early as middle school and worsened in high school. While attending predominantly white schools, the racism she experienced strengthened her resolve to fight for civil rights. One way she expressed this passion for justice was by joining her school’s Black Student Alliance.

Porshai’s childhood memories were shaped by the Rodney King riots from 1992. Watching news coverage as a young girl, Porshai recalled the feelings of seeing the Rodney King riots and the images of police brutality brought into her worldview around the age of eight. 

“You can’t really process what is going on, but I knew it was an injustice. I didn’t understand why he was being attacked so viciously but I knew it was wrong,” Porshai said. 

While Porshai and her daughter knew where they stood in the fight for justice, finding their place in the movement took time. Their activism skills and level of involvement took time to develop, but as city streets across the world filled with people in the name of George Floyd, Ashira took the leap. She attended her first protest with her friends on May 29. 

“What really sparked [my activism and made me] step out and use my voice finally was seeing George Floyd murdered by the police,” she said.

Ashira knew this was only the beginning of her activism and saw the opportunity to involve her mother in something they both cared about. Porshai hit the streets with her daughter the very next day. Her first experiences with the movement were something Ashira knew she had to share with her mother. 

“Just to see the power, energy, care and concern was overwhelming,” Porshai said. ”For once, I felt validated that it was wrong. We are tired of seeing our people killed and brutalized.” 

Along with the sense of support and community came the realization that many people attending the rallies and protests had different objectives than them. Ashira recalled two young women around her age attending a protest for Elijah McClain who posed for photos with the crowds in the background. 

“We’re not protesting because this is fun or we’re celebrating,” Ashira said. “We are protesting because people have died and people are living with trauma from being brutalized by the police.” 

As their involvement grew, so did their understanding of how many Americans face entirely different realities. Marching through Larimer Square one night and witnessing the seemingly purposeful ignorance of diners was an unforgettable moment for them. Seeing this dichotomy only strengthened Porshai’s resolve to continue to work with the movement. 

“We can’t stop now because progress is occurring. It’s like a ripple effect,” she said. 

Looking back at last summer, one moment that stood out was the traumatizing events of July 25. While protesters marched down Interstate 225, a blue Jeep drove through the crowd. In the chaos, one protester drew his weapon and fired at the vehicle. His wild shots unintentionally wounded others in the crowd. For Ashira and many others, this incident became a traumatic memory. It also brought about  a sense of solidarity among the activists. 

For Porshai, one day that stood out to her the most was attending the March on Washington “Get Your Knee off Our Necks” campaign in Washington D.C. She stood on the same ground where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

“To look back and see the same support but also feeling conflicted about why we are herewe shouldn’t be here 57 years later,” Porshai said. 

As attendance and media coverage dies down, Porshai and Ashira remain committed to change and justice. For them, last summer was not an event to look back on and remember, but a beginning. Both mother and daughter said their fight for justice and equality continues to enlighten them and bring them closer together as a family. 

With no intentions of stopping anytime soon, their next steps are to plan for their future. Currently finishing her senior year, Ashira is beginning to raise money for college with a Go Fund Me. She intends to earn a Bachelor of Science Nursing degree and bring her activism to campus.

“I will be going out of state, but I know I will be using my voice on campus if I see or experience anything that is wrong,” Ashira said. “When I go to college, they’ll say ‘she’s the one with the megaphone.’” 

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