The following story, written by Chris Harry, was originally published on floridagators.com.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Peace. Love. Positivity.
Those are the stated core values of PeaceByU, the nonprofit organization that Scottie Lewis helped launch during his days as a student and basketball standout at Ranney School in New Jersey. "We strive to use our voice and our platform in multiple aspects of life to create for other people," reads the banner on the organization's Instagram page.
Create Peace. Create Love. Create Positivity.
With that mission statement in mind Lewis, the University of Florida sophomore swingman, called for his community to rally Friday afternoon for a masked march from Liberty Park in downtown Asbury Park, N.J. - the hub of Monmouth County - to the doorsteps of the city's police station. Despite a constant rain that at times turned to downpour, a diverse crowd estimated at 2,000 showed up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The 20-year-old Lewis, bullhorn in hand, was the front man of it all, a role he's perfectly cast for. The goal of staging a meaningful and peaceful assembly was achieved, with protesters and police- together - capping the event by kneeling in prayer and solidarity.
"The protest was not entirely about police brutality, but about police accountability, social injustice and Jim Crow laws that have kind of been hidden behind the mask of the prison system; how everything is a cycle and how people of color have been oppressed for so long," Lewis said Saturday by phone from his home in Hazlet, New Jersey. "We're just tired. We're not asking for much, we're not saying much. We're asking for things and saying things that people should already be given. ... There's just so much inequality and lack of respect and love in this world. We want to spread those things. Peace, love and positivity is our motto."
The PeaceByU march went off without incident. The same cannot be said about a myriad of demonstrations in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Lewis gets that side of the movement, as well. And, frankly, he acknowledges it as necessary.
"That's definitely not something I'm against. As an African-American, I understand the pain. I understand how tired people are," he said. "I can empathize with that, being who I am and growing up the way I did. The destruction is not something I'm totally against, but I want to represent a better message than that. We have to be educated, we have to learn, we have to figure out the root of the problem and take compelling steps toward that goal. I think it's important for us to not only stand up for what we believe in, but make sure the people who are supposed to be governing us stand up for what we believe in. They are the overseers of that city, of that community or that state."
The notion of taking to his hometown streets struck Lewis the week before when he was visiting his father and stepmother in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He made the trip with some of his PeaceByU cohorts. Lawrenceville, about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, was the site of a demonstration five days after Floyd died. Lewis and his friends marched in that May 30 protest, chanting "No Justice! No Peace!"
On June 1, UF players, coaches and support staff participated in a Zoom call, the bulk of which was spent discussing the heated societal climate across the nation.
To no one's surprise, Lewis took the lead in the conversation.
"He wasn't the only guy that spoke up. Some other guys had some really good things to say," Gators assistant coach Darris Nichols said. "But Scottie is going to have the first word ... and the last."
It was two days later, after reaching out to local community organizers, politicians and law enforcement officials in Asbury Park, that Lewis announced the march via social media. PeaceByU vowed to further the process of creating a new norm.
ALL ARE WELCOME. ALL ARE LOVED. What we are trying to accomplish, it's not an overnight task, it will take constant action, uncomfortable conversations, and more people who are willing to sacrifice in order to serve for greater good. Please join us in this protest and spread the word. "United we stand, divided we fall."
Lewis is ready for those uncomfortable conversations. He wants to use his platform to engage anyone, anywhere in a dialogue, especially those who don't look like him. That, of course, is the case with the overwhelming majority of fans inside Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center.
He had one of those conversations during this FloridaGators.com phone call Saturday.
"It's important for you to understand that you will never understand, but it's even more important for you to understand your privilege and that you have a voice that can reach further than ours," Lewis said. "There's a fundamental difference between being sympathetic and being empathetic. One of those you have the ability of doing, the other you simply cannot because you don't wear the same skin as I do. But you have more power than I do in this American society, so we're asking you to march with us, stand with us and understand that we are the same and one. The clenched fists that were raised so high [during the march Friday] - when I saw Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Indians and white people all together - were raised in unity. Those steps taken forward were awesome, but at the end of the day that's still just a symbol. When I go into Asbury Park and want a seat at the table or go into the inner cities of New York and L.A. and these places that need attention and are begging for attention, we need people who are already in power to stand with us and relay the message that the things we're asking for are very simple and should already have been given us."
Clearly, these concepts aren't new to Lewis. He's educated himself on this topic and now is taking action.
"When I was recruiting him, we always talked about these kinds of things and shared ideas and books to read about social issues, past and present," Nichols said. "He's been doing this a long time. It's something he's really passionate about. He knows there needs to be a change. He's not going away from it, he wants to be in the middle of it."
And Lewis wants to make sure this is not just a moment in time. The conversation, he promised, will continue when he rejoins the Gators later this month, as UF student-athletes begin trickling back to school. He intends not only to be an activist voice on campus, but in the Gainesville community, as well. It's a responsibility Lewis feels.
It's also one he was made for.
"Sometimes, all you need is a role model and someone to speak for the people," Lewis said. "I'm willing to be that person, no matter if it's Gainesville, Florida, the Bronx, New York, or Asbury Park, New Jersey, wherever."