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Meet The Woman Who Has Been Demonstrating For 32 Days And Counting

Monica Onyedika
Jennifer Merritt
Monica Onyedika started a vigil against police brutality outside of District 1 headquarters on June 3.

For more than a month now, Monica Onyedika has set up a tent and laid out blankets on the greenspace median along Central Parkway near District 1. Sometimes others join her; sometimes it's just her. No matter which way it goes, Onyedika says she will continue to be there every Friday at 6 p.m., to remind people that Black lives matter. Her life depends on it, she says.

Onyedika is not affiliated with any one group. "I am just a rando off the street," she says with a laugh. Her day job is as the admissions coordinator and the upper school academic support specialist at Bethany School in Glendale. There are many things that drive her to do this work, chief among them, kids – specifically her nephews and niece.

"I love children," she says. "I care a lot about raising up a generation of young people who know how important it is to stand up for what's right, even when they're standing alone. And so I just feel I would be a hypocrite if I wasn't leading by example with that."

She starts every vigil by saying the names of the Black men, women, children and transgender people who have been killed by police. People bring food to eat, instruments to play, chalk to write on sidewalks with, and candles to light in honor of those killed. Sometimes an art project is involved. This Friday, for example, attendees are encouraged to bring items they'd like to tie-dye.  

Credit Jennifer Merritt / WVXU
Attendees draw in chalk at the vigil on Friday, July 24.

"It's important that we remember that Eric Garner's life mattered, Tamir Rice's life mattered, Trayvon Martin and Jamel Floyd, and George Floyd and Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor – their lives matter," Onyedika said during a recent Friday vigil that saw good weather and good attendance.

It's not always that way. She says there's been times when it's just her standing on that grassy median.

In the weeks following the deaths of Floyd and Taylor, Cincinnati saw mostly peaceful protests, some even spreading beyond the usual Downtown targets of the courthouse and City Hall to the suburbs of Hyde Park and Mariemont.

But while many have since dissipated, Onyedika forges on.

When she first started holding the vigil outside District 1 on June 3, she says between 100-150 people would show up. Then, as days and weeks crossed over into June and then July, it became much less. She wondered why. This is for the people, she thought. Why aren't they showing up?

So she asked on social media.

"A lot of what we were hearing was, 'I'm doing resistance work. I'm advocating, I'm showing up, but it's a lot,' " she recalls. "And so to be doing this five to six to seven days a week is just exhausting. And many people were like, 'This vigil is a place of healing and of rest and of comradery. And it's not fun to do that when I'm just depleted.' And that along with the pandemic, along with the weather, was why we ultimately made the decision to just do it on Fridays."

This Friday will be Day 33.

Monica Onyedika
Credit Jennifer Merritt / WVXU
Attendees of the vigil on Friday, July 24.

Though she's not the longest-running demonstration ever in Cincinnati, she's in good company.

As inspiration, she points to Rosa Parks and, closer to home, the so-called "Hillsboro Marching Mothers," who every day for two years in the mid-1950s walked their children to Hillsboro Elementary School in Hillsboro, Ohio, in protest of segregated schools. 

Onyedika hopes she doesn't have to fight that long. But she will if she has to.

"I hope to God I don't have to do it for the rest of my life. But I also know that I will, if I have to, because I believe in the liberation of Black people by any means necessary," she says. "And if that means that I do this for the rest of my life, then I'm doing it for the rest of my life. The Montgomery bus boycott after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat – that lasted 381 days. And I have said since our very first vigil, that if we have to be out here 381 evenings, then we're going to be out here for 381 evenings, if necessary. And I still feel that way."