The 17-year-old from Marion, Virginia is continuing his fight for racial justice.
Hours after 17-year-old Travon Brown organized a Black Lives Matter protest in the tiny town of Marion, Virginia, a cross was burned on his family’s lawn. But this young activist isn’t letting this racist act silence his voice.
“Everybody deserves life, liberty and justice and it seems that African Americans are still stuck on life,” Brown said in an interview with Dogwood.
Before 2020, Brown considered himself to be a normal teen. He was the manager of the girl’s varsity basketball team, with a love of track, music and books. He was a high school student who worked at a Dairy Queen and enjoyed making sundaes.
But it was the death of George Floyd that pushed Brown to become a more active participant in the fight against racism.
In June, he attended his first Black Lives Matter protest in Johnson City, Tennessee. It was this protest that introduced Brown to the world of activism and inspired this teen to make his mark on the world.
He set a personal goal to attend at least 20 protests. He’s met that goal, as well as organizing two protests of his own.
While he hasn’t been an activist for very long, Brown has already made an impact in the world of social justice, organizing numerous protests, campaigns and has even started his own community outreach program. He planned his first protest against racism with the help of the BLM group, the New Panthers.
And at these protests, Brown doesn’t hesitate to extend an ear to counter protesters, wanting to truly engage and change the mind of people who disagree.
“Whenever I would talk to a counter protester, they always tell me that they don’t mean any harm. They just see the New Panthers and they think of the Black Panthers. And all they see are guns in their mind,” said Brown. “So I have taken some criticism and placed it where it needs to be. …People still don’t like me because of the protests. I can’t say that I care about some of the criticism,” said Brown. “But I have a lot of supporters too.”
When Brown moved from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Marion, he was jolted by the serious culture shock transitioning from a majority Black city to an overwhelmingly white, small town. Brown and his family faced the town’s problem with racism upon immediate arrival.
“When I lived in Mississippi, I was living in an urban area so I wasn’t seeing Confederate flags like that,” he said. “There’s a good amount of racism that needs to be talked about, but nobody wants to talk about it. It’s swept under the rug.”
According to Brown, the racism in Marion is so embedded into the culture that it makes everyday activities difficult for the Black people that live there, who make up less than 10% of the town’s population.
“When you can’t go to school to get an education because you’re worried about people calling you the n-word, that’s a problem,” said Brown. “If you’re Black or you’re gay and you’re worried about people not treating you right because of your skin color or preferences, that’s a problem.”
But Brown’s scope of change isn’t focused solely on Marion. Through educating himself with the writings of various Black authors like Ernest Gaines and James Baldwin, Brown knows that many of these problems aren’t unique to Marion and plague the entire nation.
The night of the cross burning, Brown was away from home, hanging out with some friends. His mother, who had gone to the store, returned home to a blaze so intense that she thought her house was on fire.
At around 1:35 a.m., Brown received a text message from his mother asking if he was okay, letting him know about the cross burning.
The person who confessed to setting the fire was 40-year-old James Brown, Brown’s white neighbor. According to reports, Brown was in a feud with the Black family and had a history of using racial epithets when referring to them.
“I don’t have any ill feelings towards him. I know he’s not the person he portrays,” said Brown. “I know he was trying to look good for his friends. I still don’t vibe with him but I forgive him. I’ve learned how to forgive people. But I do think justice should be served.”
The cross burning wasn’t the only intimidation that Brown and his family has faced since the protests. Dirty looks and harsh rumors were thrown in his direction by people who didn’t approve of Brown’s political efforts. Even his 16-year-old sister was threatened by a man with a gun in a Marion grocery store.
“Ever since that protest, I feel that I have eyes on me 24/7,” said Brown. “I can’t even walk in a store without getting stared at.”
But even with the intimidation, Brown refuses to back down, because he knows what he’s fighting for is right.
“I know what I’m doing is good. If I die, I know that I’m fighting for something good,” said Brown. Currently, Brown is working on a community resource agenda called the JEPC Marion, the initials standing for Justice, Equality, Peace and Change. Their fundraiser has surpassed its $5,000 goal by over $800.
While he’s busy setting up the organization, Brown is also preparing to go to college with the hopes of attending a historically Black university.