Justice Profiles: This is the third story in a series.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Three years ago, Kloi Blue went to a rally where she was threatened by white supremacists carrying firearms.
It was terrifying. She came home from the experience a changed person.
The next day at school, Blue was surprised when no one seemed to notice, even though the Charlottesville rally dominated the national news and her tweet about smoke bombs had gone viral.
“None of my friends really asked about it, and I remember going back to school like it was normal,” she said. “I remember going through the motions of school, but realizing maybe I just want to be by myself at lunch today.”
Today, Blue is 20 years old. The events of the August 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, are still fresh in her mind.
She observes the most recent protests and conflicts around Confederate statues through the hurt she experienced as a 17-year-old -- but also with a lot of hope.
“I’m holding on to hope, because nothing is hopeless,” she said. “If anything, this entire country has really come together over some fairly huge things like racism and police brutality.”
Blue, along with her family, has been active at Church Street United Methodist Church for 13 years. Her mother is a leader in Church Street’s “Conversations on Race” movement. Her father has served as a local pastor.
On May 29, Blue joined her mother and hundreds of other protesters in downtown Knoxville, marching for change after the police killing of George Floyd. The Knoxville protest was different than the Charlottesville protest she participated in three years ago.
The Knoxville protest was peaceful.
“So many ages were there from the old to the young, Black, white, everybody,” she said. “Our city really showed up that day."
When Blue went to Charlottesville in 2017, she went as a counter-protester along with three pastors from Holston Conference, including her father. As a young Black woman, she felt called to take a peaceful stand against white nationalists protesting the removal of a statue commemorating the pro-slavery Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War.
“I needed to see this for myself,” she said. “I felt like I had to.”
The Charlottesville rally quickly turned violent, resulting in one death and multiple clashes and injuries. In the chaos, what Blue remembers most is men standing on rooftops, aiming their guns at her and her fellow protesters.
“They’re not going to do anything, but they’re still pointing these guns at you from these high buildings ... They were Ku Klux Klan, and they were there to intimidate us,” she said.
State law allows “open carry” of firearms in Virginia, except where prohibited by statute. According to news reports, many demonstrators were armed during the Charlottesville rally, some with semi-automatic weapons.
Blue said she was protected by her companions, and she doesn’t regret the experience – “not for one second.”
But she has to work through her feelings and reactions when she remembers that day or recognizes racism in her current, day-to-day life. She fights an urge to feel “defensive” when she’s dismissed because of the color of her skin.
“Just because I’m Black, there are people who don’t want to give me the time of day,” she says. She doesn’t want to dismiss them in return.
As a former thrift-store worker, Blue is contemplating her future and looking for a job that can be done safely in the middle of a pandemic. She wants a job where she can interact with people and take risks.
“I want to take the time to hear other people’s stories, and to listen more than to just be ‘above’ someone,” she said. “People are so intricate. You can’t just point a finger at them and guess their entire life. And you can’t dehumanize someone because you don’t agree with their opinion.”
It might be scary sometimes, but she’s willing to risk being vulnerable to help change her world.
“That's where my growth come from,” she said. “That’s when I learn. Your true self comes out when you’re not ready for it.”
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Holston Conference includes 853 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.