MIAMI — Oklahoma State Sen. George Young was not only impressed by the size of the crowd at a Black Lives Matter unity rally Friday, June 26, at MHS Key Club Park, but by it’s diversity.

“I was very pleased … the size of the crowd, the diversity of the crowd and the age of the crowd. That’s what is propelling this movement; really giving me cautious optimism,” said Young, a former chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, was the keynote speaker at the rally, which was organized by James Walkingstick of Afton.

It was part of a nationwide response to a reckoning of race in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

Friday’s rally, which drew an estimated crowd of around 200, featured several other speakers during an “open mike” portion, where those in attendance had a chance to speak up.

Many in attendance held up signs in support of the BLM movement.

Previous Unity rallies have been held in Grove, Tulsa, Claremore, Shawnee, Oklahoma City and other towns across the state.

Floyd, a Black Minneapolis, Minnesota, man died in May after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, leading to Floyd’s death.

“This thing is not going to go away,” Young said. “It’s going to be here for a while, talking about black issues. Now its human rights issues. It’s civil rights issues. It touches a lot of folks. These young people have grabbed hold of that. They have seen it, they have seized it, and they are making it their issue. I am very excited to be here.”

Walkingstick, a member of the Cherokee Nation, became interested in the movement through his family.

“Growing up, my family saw lots of different forms of oppression,” he said. “My father faced a lot of different systems of oppression growing up. He didn’t get a full education. He never graduated from high school. Seeing that growing up made me feel that there was a job to be done, especially for me and my people. Because of that, I’ve been pushing for racial equality ever since. Part of that includes Black liberation. If I want my people to be free and if I want the Cherokee Nation to be restored, we have go care for our Black brothers and sisters.

“When Black Lives Matters came around, I had many people that I cared deeply for that were Black and I had seen the different forms of racism that impacted me.”

Walkingstick, who helped organize the Grove rally earlier this month, wasn’t surprised by Friday’s turnout.

“I am happy to see the community together first and foremost, especially in a town like Miami,” he said. “Miami was once a ‘sundown town,’ where Black people weren’t allowed to stay overnight night.

“I think it’s entirely vital and entirely impressive that this many people came out to voice their support. The sun will set on a different town tonight.”

“I think what happened in Minneapolis where that person put his knee on George Floyd’s neck, what the young folks saw was a human element that was involved that struck the chords of their hearts,” Young said. “When they saw that, they saw it as a human right’s issue that you don’t treat any human being that way. They started connecting that human right’s issue, ‘oh, now I understand what the African Americans have been saying about the injustices they have faced over the years. They have something to connect it to, to view it and to see it. They were able to say, ‘that’s wrong.’”

Young, born in Memphis, Tennessee, said he remembers various race-related incidents, including one where a 16-year-old boy was beaten to death by law enforcement authorities for stealing a car.

“I was taught by my parents that you had to deal with some stuff in life, not because you deserve it, not because of you did anything wrong, but because of your color,” Young said. “‘We want you to make it, but these are things you need to know.’”

He was one of the youngest of nine children, so “I had a lot of folks above me that helped me understand how you interact,” he said. “You have Memphis, Tennessee, Mississippi River, the South, ‘King Cotton’ and all of that. You had a culture that existed.”

There have been protests against police brutality and bias in law enforcement across the country following the death of Floyd.

“I am try to get people to understand that being born and raised in America, you were born into a system that has looked at people as ‘better than,’” Young said. “From the inception of this country, it was set up that way. When they wrote those words ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’”

— The Associated Press also contributed information to this report.