Harrison County

Hundreds gather in Gulfport to march for women, equality

They did not fly to Chicago or take a bus to Washington to protest inequality. For hundreds of women, men and children living in South Mississippi, they marched at home.

More than 300 people showed up at Cafe Climb on Saturday to take part in the Gulf Coast Sisters Solidarity Rally to support the Women’s March on Washington.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended Women’s March rallies across the nation. McClatchy reported more people turned out for the march in Washington than the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday.

In South Mississippi, the people who marched were as diverse as their outfits and their signs, but their message was the same — they wanted equality for women and for people of all races, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations, and for people living with disabilities.

Before the march, speakers at Cafe Climb inspired the crowd to stand up and wave their posters. Some said “Nasty Woman” and others said “Dignity,” “Have Empathy” and “No Human Being is Illegal.” Some posters supported Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders and a few reprimanded Trump. Many posters had #notmypresident painted on the bottom of them.

Moderator Carol Ferguson got a standing ovation when she said, “Whether you’re black or brown, gay or straight ... or have a disability, we all have the same rights, and we demand equal rights.”

Julie Kuklinski, executive director of Women In Construction, said she cried when she saw how many families were at the rally. People hugged their loved ones tight and cheered with their neighbors before they took to the sidewalk to chant.

The Sun Herald talked to several people who marched from Cafe Climb to the Dan Russell Federal Courthouse. Here’s why they came out.

▪ Every morning, Beatrice “BeBe” Bryant, 6, of Hurley says “I’m black and I’m proud,” her mother, Jackie McDuffee, said.

McDuffee said she brought BeBe to the march because she teaches her daughter to fight for what is right and to protest injustice.

McDuffee said it’s the little things people do to make her daughter feel different or like an “other” — strangers come up to the child and run their fingers through her hair. At school, children were coming to her and chanting “Trump! Trump!” but McDuffee said her teachers put a stop to it.

One of BeBe’s best friends told her once on the bus that she didn’t like black people, McDuffee said.

McDuffee said this is not BeBe’s first protest — she’s also attended a Black Lives Matter rally.

“It’s very important to me that she knows you have to do the right thing,” McDuffee said.

▪ Biloxian Amara Mayberry, 22, brought her 4-year-old daughter, Astrid, to the rally to see that people in their community can stand together in peace for a purpose. Mayberry’s mother and younger sister also attended the rally.

“I think this is a really good opportunity to come out and show the world that we aren’t just objects to be tossed aside,” Mayberry said. “We are powerful. A woman should be proud.”

She said she was also marching for her friends of every race, gender and sexuality who have faced discrimination.

“I’m doing this for them and myself,” she said.

▪ Jim Schnur, 80, of Bay St. Louis came to march to support women and to express his concerns about Trump.

“I’m afraid we’re headed in a very, very negative direction,” he said. “I’m frightened to death of what’s going to happen.”

Schnur held a sign that read, “Men of quality do not fear equality.”

▪ Dharma Gilley, 17, of Ocean Springs came out as bisexual when she moved to South Mississippi from Alaska, and she said she’s faced discrimination among her peers at school.

She said she’s a feminist, and would be marching for her rights as well as the rights for women to say how they feel without criticism or persecution. She said some of her teachers have criticized the feminist movement, and she feels she can’t speak her mind when she’s at school.

This was her first protest. She said her parents had never allowed her to attend one until Saturday.

“I want to get out and get active now that I’m able to,” she said.

▪ Taija Morgan, 16, of Ocean Springs came to the protest with Gilley, and she held a sign that said, “ We were served a lemon, but we’ll make lemonade.”

Morgan and Gilley both said they felt it was important to stand up for women’s rights after Trump was elected over Clinton. The president made headlines on the campaign trail when he referred to Clinton as a “nasty woman.”

For Morgan, though, she also was marching to represent her strength as a black woman.

She said she, too, has faced ridicule and bullying at school.

“I was just the angry black woman (at school),” she said. “It’s hard because I’m so much more than that.”

The rally, sponsored by the Steps Coalition, was not the only march in Mississippi. There were marches Saturday in Jackson and Oxford. The Hattiesburg march was canceled by the tornado that hit early Saturday.

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @Journalism_J