APOPKA, Fla. – An Apopka teen is organizing a peaceful protest on Juneteenth, saying it’s an important day in U.S. history, especially during this time in the nation.
The protest starts at 12:30 p.m. on Friday at St. Paul AME Church located at 1012 S. Park Avenue.
Johnny Simmons is the organizer of the demonstration. The 16-year-old said he hopes the protest will bring the community together.
"I think it's important for us to start speaking out and for our voices to be heard in such a time as this," Simmons said.
Simmons said the goal of his peaceful protest is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community by creating relationships and building trust. He said this is especially important for those who live in South Apopka, who he said lives with violence.
“Whether it’s gun violence, whether it’s fighting, those are the things we see on a day to day basis in South Apopka, so what we’re trying to do is get our community back to where it once was, to be one and as one big family,” Simmons said.
Simmons said he wants to unite what he calls a divided city. He hopes everyone can have an open conversation about race relations and law enforcement.
Members of both the Apopka Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office met with organizers on Wednesday to prepare for the demonstration.
Simmons said they're holding the protest on Juneteenth, a day marking the end of slavery in the United States. He said it's important because not everyone is free.
"That is an important part of history, especially with everything going on because it's just like I'm not free as a young man," Simmons said. "So dealing with Juneteenth and everything that's coming up, I think it brings awareness to our community that we are free and we have rights as well."
Pastor Gerard Moss with St. Paul AME Church said he is proud to see Simmons take charge and lead the youth to make a difference. He adds we are heading in the right direction, but we must keep the momentum going.
“The problem has been not that these horrendous acts haven’t been happening, it’s just now we’re having our eyes open,” Moss said. “So now that our eyes are open, we pray that we won’t be the same way again.”
Simmons is encouraging those who attend the protest to wear a mask and practice safety guidelines.
A spokesperson with Apopka Police with the march will go from St. Paul AME Church to Phyllis Wheatley Park by traveling down 11th Street to Central until they reach the park. Road closures are anticipated.