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Kimiya Factory addresses people gathered at the Arneson River Theatre in downtown San Antonio on June 9, 2020. Protesters, led by Factory, met in front of the Bexar County Courthouse, a day after Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said due to lack of new evidence and information, he did not plan to review the cases of Marquise Jones, Charles Roundtree and Antronie Scott, all of whom were killed by San Antonio police officers.
Kimiya Factory, founder and executive director of Black Freedom Factory, leads a chant during a July 22, 2022, rally held for Andre “AJ” Hernandez outside Public Safety Headquarters in San Antonio. Andre was 13 years old when he was fatally shot by San Antonio police officer Stephen Ramos during a confrontation in May.
Pharaoh Clark announces a list of demands he will present to Mayor Ron Nirenberg during a protest in downtown San Antonio on June 4, 2020. It was the sixth day of protests in San Antonio in spurred by the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by officers.
Uniting America Outreach’s Pharaoh Clark, 34, distributes warm clothing, shoes and toys to families Nov. 18, 2021, at the Terraza Fandango migrant shelter in Ciudad Acuña. The nonprofit came from San Antonio to deliver the supplies.
Organizer Ananda Thomas, left, listens to input from Oji Martin during a local Black Lives Matter organizational meeting at the Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Circle, on June 7, 2020.
Ananda Thomas, founder and executive director of Act 4 SA leads chants as family members of the late Andre “AJ” Hernandez during a rally outside Public Safety Headquarters in San Antonio on July 22, 2022.
Jonathan David Jones speaks during the Mayor’s Council on Police Community Relations in 2016 at City Hall.
SAN ANTONIO — It was late May 2020, and the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor had ignited protests in cities across the nation. In San Antonio, that spark would smolder for four days before fueling a massive protest that became the first of more than two weeks of demonstrations.
On May 30, thousands of protesters filled the streets around Travis Park, waiting for the signal to begin their march. But before they crafted their signs and donned their marching shoes, someone had to bring them together in what has become known as the Black Lives Matter protest movement.
“I was applying to law school when George Floyd was murdered,” said Kimiya Factory, a young activist at the University of Texas at San Antonio at the time. “He was murdered three or four days before my LSAT exam.”
Alongside the local Brown Berets, a civil rights group that responds to instances of brutality with community outreach and fundraising efforts, Factory is credited for the success of that first protest. The nonprofit she would begin, The Black Freedom Factory, along with local activist Pharaoh Clark’s group Reliable Revolutionaries, is one of many that got its rise that summer.
Carissa Ceasor wrote this article for the Express-News’ Teen Team program, which connects high school students with reporters, photographers and other Express-News staffers for one-on-one training. To learn more, visit wearesaen.com/teen-team.
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More than two years after the Floyd and Taylor deaths, the fight for social justice continues, albeit not in such a public way. Several local activists recently recounted their struggles in the early days of the movement, what they accomplished and what more needs to be done in the months and years to come.
In March 2020, Ananda Thomas was a recent graduate at UTSA who’d just been laid off from her job. Her previous involvement with the city-union police contract negotiations had primed her for her involvement in Black Lives Matter.
“It was just this perfect powder keg,” she said. “I had the time; I already had the degree; I already had the interest.”
After Floyd’s death, she got involved with Fix SAPD, a nonprofit dedicated to passing a ballot measure that would have stripped the police union of its right to collectively bargain with the city.
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Later, after the proposition failed and those twice-a-decade negotiations came to a close, Fix SAPD took a hiatus. To keep up the momentum, Thomas started Act 4 SA, a nonprofit working toward police accountability.
Thomas wasn’t the only one to suddenly have plenty of free time. Many activists point to the pandemic as a major contributor to protest turnout, especially as, stuck inside, there was little else to do but go online.
“I got on Twitter one day, and I spoke with other activists and decided that San Antonio needed to rise up,” Factory said, adding that she wanted to help organize a nonviolent protest. “Before I knew it, the entire state of Texas was on their way to San Antonio, and I found myself leading the first George Floyd march in the city.”
The response stunned these budding activists.
“I had never seen turnout like that,” Thomas said. “That first protest was insane. There was so much solidarity.”
While Clark would soon join his peers in the marches downtown, his earliest involvement with the movement was spent at City Hall. Outside, streets full of protesters chanted loudly enough to be heard through the walls.
“The perfect storm was brewing there,” he said. “I seized that opportunity and ran up to the mic and addressed the City Council by letting them know that, hey, this is the cry of the people, and you need to listen to the voice.”
Work by activists like Factory, Thomas and Clark fueled the protest of 2020, and spearheaded change in local law enforcement policy including banning chokeholds, increasing the use of body cameras and limiting no-knock warrants — a police practice associated with the deaths of both Taylor and San Antonio resident Charles Roundtree Jr., who was killed by police in his home in 2018.
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They say there’s more work to be done.
“A lot of people believe that the movement kind of died down because it’s not as upfront, it’s not as vocal,” said Clark. “A lot of organizations are now saying, OK, now that we have this break, let’s take a step back and get organized. How are we going to make our plans most effective?”
In the 1960s, San Antonio civil rights activists focused largely on the issue of segregation. The city’s transition was largely peaceful, with business leaders caring more about how integration might disrupt profits than the racial issue at its core.
But the conversation regarding police reform was not as simple.
In 1968, a Black man, Bobby Jo Phillips, was beaten to death by San Antonio police following warnings from then-Mayor Walter W. McAllister that law enforcement’s reaction to Black riots would be to “shoot to kill.”
Activists proposed a civilian review board over the police, the same work Thomas continues now, nearly six decades later.
In 2014, Jonathan David Jones, then an aspiring track star at UTSA, enters the picture. After the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Mike Brown earlier that year in Ferguson, Mo., Jones was drawn to protest.
“It was almost by accident,” he said. “A group chat got started with a lot of the leaders of Black organizations on campus.”
They decided to do a die-in, a demonstration in which people lie down as if dead.
“And they said, well, we need somebody that tells people what we’re doing because seeing that you’re laying down — it’s confusing to everybody on campus.”
Jones says his peers turned to him. A spoken word poet and leader of a Black, Christian organization, he was known as a strong speaker.
“I had maybe 20, 30 people that stopped me like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ And it got so redundant that I was just like, OK, this is ridiculous. I literally just stood up on a bench, yelled what we were doing, and it sounded like activism.”
In 2016, San Antonio police officer John Lee shot and killed Antronie Scott while attempting to arrest him outside a North Side apartment complex. Lee was later suspended. A civil case filed by Scott’s family was settled this year for $450,000.
In 2018, Roundtree, 18, was killed after officer Steve Casanova fired into an occupied West Side home while investigating an assault. Casanova was acquitted the next year. A civil wrongful death lawsuit is pending.
Then came the deaths of Floyd and Taylor in 2020.
Long before Black Lives Matter, the importance of strong central images has been a major part of the civil rights movement. Famously, the Montgomery bus boycott rallied around Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat, rather than Claudette Colvin, who initially refused but was physically removed by police.
“Those images are needed,” said Jones, referring to the shootings that acted as rallying calls for activists throughout the last decade. “I wish they weren’t. I’ve always said I wish we didn’t have to be a death-based movement.”
However, Thomas argues that martyrs alone aren’t enough to make a long-lasting impact on protest turnouts.
“If we still had the level of activism we had in 2020 now, even half of what we had, I think we would have a lot more done in terms of reform,” she said. “Whereas we used to have hundreds of people at actions, (now) it’s a group of 10 people, and the same 10 people. It just loses its power and its effect.”
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But Black Lives Matter extends beyond rallies and protest, into many parts of the community. Black Freedom Factory coordinated funding and volunteer efforts during the Haitian migrant crisis; and Uniting America, a group Clark helped to form, had volunteers running food between houses with working stoves and those without during the deep freeze in February 2021.
“That, honestly, is what organizing is about,” Clark said. “It’s about understanding the intricacies of all these different things, how they work together.”
Factory said, “We’re not just here to tell you about the issues and why you should care. We’re here to see, what are those resources you’re lacking?”
But the activists who offer this community support can often struggle to find it themselves.
“When you’re not at meetings, you’re scrolling,” Jones said. “And you’re looking at all these different opinions, you’re seeing this new article, breaking news, somebody else was murdered, and you’re getting triggered all over again.”
Jones also described dangerous counter protests. Clark said he has had windows and tires shot out.
Jones has since moved out of the city and away from activism. He spends his time kickboxing and raising his two children, a rest his peers say is much deserved. But though he’s no longer active in the movement, his influence is still felt.
“That campus ministry that I used to be a leader in — I was a senior, (Factory) used to come to our meetings as a freshman at UTSA,” he said. “She was so shy.”
“I remembered watching him speak,” said Factory.
The two later bumped into each other online.
“I was on a Zoom meeting. And somebody told me, yeah, there’s this new leader — because leaders are coming up like that all the time,” Jones recalled. “And I saw her name and I’m like, I know you. And then it was just this crazy reunion.”
“And It’s funny because when I led the George Floyd March, he was like, surprised.” Factory said. “It was like I took the torch.”
When asked, all four activists said they did not believe the movement ended in 2020 and has not ended in the time since, as activists continue to seek reparations for the families of San Antonio victims and demand police accountability in other ways.
“Do I think that Black Lives Matter, the movement, will look different or sound different in the next decade or century? Absolutely,” Factory said. “But as long as we remember the true intention behind the work, the hands that did the braiding, the feed that did the running, you know, the ancestors that gave us that torch, we will be OK. And liberation is never in question.”
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