A week before her Hungry For Change rally, Cheryl “Action” Jackson felt overwhelmed, inundated with news of George Floyd’s death, of the protests that followed, and the turbulence rocking the country. She’s had a rough few months. Her nationally-known nonprofit Minnie’s Food Pantry has been especially hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. People have been lining up for miles, seeking help with food, more than they have ever seen at one time. The weekend of Easter, one of their trucks was stolen, though it was quickly recovered. She and her team have already been working through weekends trying to meet the need in the community.

Then George FLoyd was killed. Jackson posted on Facebook that day that she was overwhelmed, that she “just needed to breathe.”

As a Black woman, Jackson was thinking of her sons, of how she has had to teach them that even if a cop is a bully, even if he is wrong, even if they haven’t broken the law, it doesn’t matter. Do whatever they say.

“If it’s one in the morning, and he turns off his body cam, you’re gone,” she recalls saying. “I just want to see you alive.”  

Jackson has never been targeted for the color of her skin the way George Floyd or Breona Taylor were. But she does recalls an instance when one of her employees, a person of color, was pulled over in the middle of the night in a city north of Plano. (She doesn’t specify which city.) An officer approached her employee on the pretense of smelling weed and asked to search the car. When he politely refused, they were booked—though not fingerprinted—and spent the night in jail. It was not, she adds, for resisting arrest or drug possession but simply for talking back.

Jackson is known for talking back and taking action. It’s the reason the community calls her “Action Jackson.” She felt a responsibility to act and raise awareness. A week later Jackson hosted the Hungry for Change rally and was joined by 2,000 protesters and a group of speakers that included Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, S. Lee Merritt, a notable civil rights attorney, Plano Police Chief Ed Drain, and Grammy-winner Fred Hammond, all ready to call for change. After they spoke, they marched around downtown Plano.

“I can’t even describe to you the energy at the rally …” she said in the aftermath. She was blown away by the turnout. “I looked back while I was marching and just started crying.”

Her inspiration came when she found a picture of her parents praying in front of city hall. In times of crisis, her parents would go to the flagpoles in front of the Plano Municipal Center, often joined by city officials, and they would pray. 

“That’s what I know to do, that’s what they taught me,” she says. 

At those very flagpoles, people filled the parking lot and spilled onto the grass, encompassing the entire front lawn. Masks and water bottles were offered. Coaches at Plano East Senior High School donated water, and another 5,000 water bottles were donated by 13-year-old Jaxson Turner.

One of the first speakers was Plano Police Chief Ed Drain, who has been very active in the community and a frequent presence at rallies across the city. He told the crowd that at another rally, a reporter asked him if it was difficult for him to hear people calling for reform for the police, even defunding, which has been widely circulating at protests.

 “I don’t think that is realistic,” he said. “That would create chaos.”

He argued that it speaks toward a “gap” in their perception and his reality as a police chief. He sees two groups of people that fundamentally don’t understand each other. “It’s up to police departments to close that gap,” he said.

S. Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney, cautioned against believing what he called “the myth about a few bad apples” when he took center stage at the protest.

“There is a fundamental problem with American policing,” he said and poured out a libation, invoking the names of people like Jordan Edwards, Atatiana Jefferson, O’shae Terry, and Botham Jean. “I could do this all day and that’s just North Texas.

“We are not talking about George Floyd only,” he added. “We are talking about my 7-year-old daughter who heard about Atatiana Jefferson and is scared someone will come up to her window and shoot her.”

He also pointed out that last year in Germany, seven people were killed by police. In the U.S., 1,999.  

Another high profile speaker was Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, the CEO of Dallas Mavericks. When she was a little girl, she explained, there was a time of crisis in her home. A police officer was the one who made sure she got to school safely. 

“He showed up in uniform and either rode the school bus with me or he put me in his police car which is why I ain’t afraid of secret service—I have some with me today,” Marshall said. “I had secret service when I was 11 years old. He provided comfort to me during a traumatic experience. He cared for me. Somebody didn’t care for Breonna Taylor. Say her name.”  

After an hour of speakers, the protesters marched in force down 15th Street, looping in a wide circle around the downtown area, to arrive back at Plano Municipal Center. 

For Jackson, the day was what she wanted it to be: a incredible show of unity, strength, and most of all love as the community gathered to say enough is enough. The outpouring brought her to tears. Still, it came at a slight cost for Minnie’s Food Pantry; while thousands turned out for the protest, there was also a small backlash that blindsided her. A couple of her supporters withdrew their support when she announced the rally. One calling her a two words we can’t print (one begins with “M” and the other “F”) for organizing it. 

But she is undeterred. The rally was personal to her, something she says she felt she had to do as a mother and a person. “Plano is a rich white city—call it what it is,” she says. “We have great police. On the first day I announced Hungry for Change, 900 people RSVP’ed. That tells me they’re hungry for change.” 

Of course, the only way to make change happen is by voting. Jackson set up a voting booth at the protest and reported that 50 people registered to vote. The rally, she says, was so that their voices could be heard, so that they could gather and grieve together, and call for change.

“Our votes in November will speak louder than our words will,” Jackson says. “See that this shouldn’t happen to my child, or your child, and laws will be changed. They’ll know justice when we go to the polls.”