“Boom, boom, boom,” they all fell, said Ashleigh Strange, regional organizer of Lehigh Valley Stands Up. “He didn’t even have to say anything.
Hundreds of people took to the streets and all fell to one knee facing Justin Parker. Parker had observed a minute of silence for all victims of police brutality in closed streets where pizzas, bottled water and songs filled the air.
Within moments, the activists who came fell into resounding silence out of respect and memory, with all eyes on Parker.
On May 28, 2020, Justan Parker, Executive Director of Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley, posted a Facebook status expressing his desire to stage a protest for the murder of George Floyd on South Seventh and Hamilton Streets in Allentown.
“Once he took out that status, it just blew up,” said Kevin Jefferson, Parker’s husband.
Within two days, the mayor and police chief contacted Parker to discuss the logistics of the protest.
Parker said he has no idea how big the protest will be and what a busy day it will turn out to be.
On the day of the protest, Parker rushed out. His phone was exploding because of donated pizzas and bottled water. He had to rush to the town hall to meet the mayor, the police chief and other members of the council.
“Justan was there and he just had this amazing energy,” Strange said.
Parker is a man who is dedicated to a cause that he hopes will have a positive impact on his community. He juggles family life, friends and a busy schedule, but always works to improve Allentown. He was motivated during his youth and now inspires others by using his platform to energize black people. He is determined to effect change in his community through protests and rallies.
Parker didn’t just choose to be an activist someday – his interest in taking a stand began during his youth.
He attributes his involvement in community action and justice to his grandmother. She had a degree in sociology and was a strong activist in their family and community.
From an early age he listened to his work and his lessons.
“Activism was just surrounding him,” Parker said. “Whether it’s a student union protest or something. “
Parker said his grandmother was his inspiration and one of the reasons he found it important to stand up and speak out.
Now Parker is using his platform and personal connections to inspire others around him.
“When I was younger he was always able to help me achieve what was important and helped me grow as a young woman,” said Shaqwana Griffin, a longtime friend of Parker’s, mother of four children and co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Lehigh Valley.
Parker works closely with many people, Griffin and Strange included, who see him as more than an activist.
“I think what a lot of people are seeing is that Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley is an extension of Justan,” Strange said. “What people don’t understand is that he’s not Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley.”
Outside of work and activism, Parker is a father of two, 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, with Jefferson. He loves the holidays and enjoys cooking and singing, which comes from his time in church.
“I feel like if I wasn’t in this arena, I would probably be a singer or an actor,” Parker said.
Parker works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., runs a nonprofit, and always finds time for the important people in his life.
“He’s ready to jump in, whether you need help organizing a march or need someone to drop off a few groceries,” Strange said.
Jefferson said he was a man dedicated to his community, his people and his family. He’s not just a partner, he’s a friend and a role model.
But his road is not easy. Parker still lives the reality that he is a black man in a world of white men.
“I feel like my skin color is turned into such a weapon that I could walk down the street and be a cause of suspicion for a police officer or a cause of fear in an elderly person,” Parker said.
The challenges he faces are personal and structural. Parker expressed concern about the lack of diverse representation in community decision-making with council members and other city officials. He said the implementation of some programs, such as Housing First initiatives, has proven to be fraught with obstacles and roadblocks.
Despite this, Parker has his eyes set on certain goals, such as reallocating funds from the police department and earmarking them in the community.
One of his most significant accomplishments was to convince city officials to publicize the police department’s “use of force” policy, which dictates the amount of force police need to defuse situations.
Parker said he believes it is important for people to understand how they are monitored and how to properly handle a dating.
“Justan is what Allentown needs,” Griffin said. “I’m glad we have it.”