BY COURTNEY AMOS, Neighborhood News Bureau
ST. PETERSBURG — In the peak of St. Petersburg’s summer heat, community members from the St. Pete Peace Protest group gathered on Thursdays to pick up trash in neighborhoods located in south St. Petersburg.
“The primary goal of our group’s community work is to offset the negative effects of late-stage capitalism and funneling our resources back into the most resource-deprived communities,” said Deja-Denice Sherrod.
Sherrod describes themself as a part of Black leadership within the decentralized collective of the movement in the city.
Though the initial marches of the St. Pete Peace Protest began in the wake of George Floyd’s murderer at the hands of police officers last May, the group is not officially affiliated with Black Lives Matter. Movement St. Pete, a movement that encapsulates various initiatives for the betterment of Black lives, includes the St. Pete Peace Protest group.
“These community-based initiatives have already been happening in St. Pete,” said Sherrod. “So our intention is to strengthen what is already happening by getting people involved with social justice for the first time (also) involved in the community.”
From approximately 2-4 p.m. each Thursday, anywhere from a small handful to upward of 20 individuals came together to pick up trash from the streets and lawns of whichever neighborhood they have decided to cover that day. On social media, this endeavor has come to be known under the 10-block challenge hashtag.
Initially, the volunteers met at Campbell Park, and then drove or walked to the destination, depending on how far it was and how many people had shown out to take part for that day. They then started meeting at Childs Park.
A van serves as the base and meeting spot for the trash pick-up crew. Gloves, trash bags and water bottles are provided, and a first aid kit is readily available. Masks are worn when the group congregates at the beginning and end of each meet up.
The van then takes the trash to a dumping cite at the end of every pickup. Sometimes, a couple of girls who regularly attend the pickups will sort out any recyclables and take those to a local recycling plant.
In addition to the weekly trash pickups, the St. Pete Peace Protest group is also involved in feeding houseless people and upkeeping the Bartlett Community Garden weekly, as well as daily signal boosting various causes and donation opportunities via their social media.
Multiple members participate in many of these endeavors, and are also regularly going to the local marches for racial justice and against police brutality, which occurred every day from May 30 to the end of August, and continue now every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
Caroline Mortellaro, 25, revealed that she started with going to the protests, and then heard about the other work the group does for the community from there.
“The environment is something that is really important to me,” said Mortellaro, noting that environmental racism is something she is particularly aware of.
This is what led her to start showing up for the trash pickups.
“When I heard that the group was going out to the community, especially into the south side, it really interested me in just being hands on with it,” she continued.
Others of the group echoed this environmentalist reasoning for attending the pickups, as well as wanting to have a proactive outlet to address and help to rectify the issues that have been inflicted on the community through gentrification.
The communities seem to be receptive to this initiative. It is not uncommon for residents to come out of their homes to say thank you or to ask more about the group, or to offer a bottle of water on a hot day.
Protesting is imperative in the social justice work that the group is trying to do, but it is only a part of a much larger picture. While the protests have gotten ample media coverage, especially in light of recent tensions between protestors and bystanders, the community-centered work the group does seems to be less well-known by the general public.
“We wish that the public understood us to be people who want the best for our city and communities, and we are willing to do what’s necessary to achieve that,” said Sherrod. “We might appear angry in the streets, and we are, but we do everything we do because we love ourselves and our communities, and do not want to suffer any longer.”
To find out what members of the groups are up to, follow them on social media for an updated schedule. The St. Pete Peace Protest can be found on Instagram and Twitter. Movement St. Pete is also on social media with their own Instagram page and their own website at movementstpete.org.
Courtney Amos is a student reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Visit nnbnews.com for more info.