Erie Equal: A Conversation with Andrey Rosado
The founder of Erie's latest activist group explains how it began and how they're leading the discussion
A few weeks ago, there was no Erie Equal. A few days before this writing, it didn't even have a name. Even so, local political action has coalesced around a group of local residents committed to change. Building off the George Floyd protests and Black Lives Matter movement, Erie Equal has come to lead the daily demonstrations going on in downtown Erie. At 8:19 p.m. every day, a large group peacefully takes a knee for nine minutes, to honor the life of George Floyd. Out of these demonstrations, and a collection of over 2,300 people on Facebook, the group has become a progressive force in the Erie area. Founded by the 22-year-old Erie native Andrey Rosado, Erie Equal is seeking to find solutions to problems inherent to our community. Since gaining Jenessa Williams as a lead partner, Erie Equal has been building partnerships with like-minded groups such as Erie United, and recently starting a regular series of conversations with Mayor Joe Schember.
Nick Warren: So, what is your role in all of this? In the protests and in the organization of everything, how would you define that?
Andrey Rosado: So essentially, my role is to be the voice of so many people. Because obviously we can't bring 1,900 people into a meeting with city officials or anything like that, especially with COVID-19 going on. So when I first started this group, it was the Sunday after the riots that happened downtown. The very next day after that happened — I was at home during it — I saw it on the news, saw Ember + Forge get their window kicked in, and fire thrown on a table. That made me really emotional. I had a couple friends over, we were just talking, hanging out, and it really got me thinking, I've always thought about it, but I've never acted on the inequality that's in our city. And not only inequality — this isn't necessarily just exclusively a Black Lives Matter thing — but it's more or less about Erie itself, the community that we live in, we all want it to prosper again, especially my generation. So I set up the Facebook group on Sunday, like I just mentioned, and I initially just wanted to give everybody a platform to organize their protest. Everybody has the right to protest. It's in the Constitution. So I wanted to give everybody a platform where they can all come together and discuss ideas and promote it to be peaceful, because things get nasty when people start breaking and looting and setting fires, as you can see in other cities and states where that's happening.
NW: Can you tell me a little bit about your meeting with the mayor?
AR: It happened yesterday, which was Tuesday (June 9), at three o'clock. Yeah, we were comprised of myself, Jenessa Williams, then two men — the Horton brothers, Aaron and Kennedy Horton. We all sat in on a meeting. We all had our different points that we wanted to talk about. Jenessa was in charge of demanding a civilian review board or community review board — it's been tossed around as a few different names.
NW: And are the Hortons related to [local politician] Andre?
AR: They are.
NW: I know that he's been a big part of the citizen's review board.
AR: Yeah, we were all in charge of our own thing. I was in charge of voter education. Jenessa was in charge of the community review board. And the Hortons were in charge of police brutality, and holding them accountable, and implementing [changes to funding]. I was trying to steer away from using the term 'defund the police.' But as more people talked about it, I understand what it means. It doesn't mean 'take away everything, all the money that they have and completely drain them and just abolish the department.'
NW: Reallocate, kind of?
AR: So myself and a random group member, she [Freda Tepher] said 'refund society,' or 'refund our community' or social services. So, we're going to say 'defund the police, then refund ____' Fill in the blank for anything that matters. So we talked heavily with the mayor, we all hit him with our points. Jenessa's was very, very in-depth. So I can't really stream all that out off the top of my head ... So at the end of the meeting, we did a recap and we each hit upon every single point that we wanted to discuss. So I'll use myself as an example. I said, 'Mr. Mayor, given the voter education programs that I asked you to implement in our society, starting at the youth level at Youth Centers, the Martin Luther King Center, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Club, and then transitioning that into middle school, high school, as well as the general population voter's education course, just to get people more involved in voting, if that proves to be effective, would that be something you would support? So that's a question where he had to say yes or no, and he said yes to that. Same thing with the other two topics, so that was highly successful. He did ask to continue working closely with us, he asked to meet again next week. And following the meeting with the mayor, I went and had dinner with a local councilman, Mr. [Michael] Keyes. We spoke heavily. So I had a lot more for him. He had some new ideas and values to learn from me. We hung out for about two hours, just talked and educated each other, and it really brought me to the realization that our group's goals really do have a huge impact and have the potential to seriously reform our entire society. The goals aren't just about Black Lives Matter. The goals aren't just about minorities. Although that's a large portion of it, the overall goal is to relocate money from the police department and put that back into social service programs such as housing, education, and things like the community college. So, essentially, the goal is to revitalize Erie, like I keep saying over and over again. I know the older generations have been in charge for a very, very long time, and we see that it is our time to kind of step up to the plate and establish the foundation for a better Erie. Establish the foundation so our kids' futures aren't at risk. And you know, you can walk around and not be scared.
NW: Obviously this has evolved extremely quickly. We talked about how this came together on Sunday on the 31st. So now, can you speak a little bit about how the group has evolved? How has the mission changed? It was posted on the group today about how the protests were kind of pigeon-holed as George Floyd protests, and how it's grown to be so much more than that.
AR: So things have definitely changed from the beginning. Initially, when it all came together or fell together, I should say, because it wasn't perfect. When it first started — we've got a lot of work to do — it was more about organizing demonstrations. We try to steer away from using the word 'protest' because there's a negative [connotation]. So that was kind of the main goal, was just organizing everybody at the protest, and setting that all up downtown. And then as we slowly moved, all the ideas came together and I slowly started realizing myself, 'hey, this has got to be bigger than just going downtown and protesting.'
So that really got us thinking seriously here, and you decided that the kneeling, and the main focus of that meeting is just to take that knee, give respect to George Floyd, who was murdered and lost his life so early. So once that knee happens, you think about that. You have nine minutes to think about that personally in your head. And that knee hurts, man. I don't know if you got any time to get out there, but kneeling for nine minutes isn't fun.
NW: How long have the kneelings been going on consecutively?
AR: The Monday after I started the group, one day after, that's when the kneeling started. The group started evolving once we started hearing a lot of that, and we kind of decided that we need to divvy up what our focuses are and really hone into them. So that's why it became Erie Equal, and that portion of the name is just a shout out to all the minorities who are oppressed, or suppressed is the term I like to use. And it makes perfect sense. That term in the name is to support and show respect to all of us. You know, I myself am a minority, so the Erie part is to cover everything else that we stand for, which is better funding for Erie schools, better pay for the teachers, the forming of a community college, more after school programs or better funding for ones that are already in there. Voter education.
NW: Actually you beat me to that question. What is Erie Equal seeking out? What are you asking for?
AR: To sum it up? We are asking for complete reform in our community. That's the long story short, so complete reform. Once you get all the points that I've been touching here. Our education system, I'm sure you know as an Erie resident, all these schools that have been shut down and all the kids crammed into one high school, with a heavy police force inside of that school. I understand just due to school shootings and stuff like that, they have to have somewhat of a police force in there, but we don't need city cops and sheriffs and this and that in the schools.
NW: Yeah, and then there's the argument that it probably causes more tension than it eases.
AR: Yeah, so that's one of our main focuses aside from supporting minorities and equal rights, which is a God-given right — that's not something we should even be having to ask for at this point, but, unfortunately, we are. It's literally 50/50, so 50 percent community reform. Everything from top to bottom, even in our local leaders, local leaders with quotations around it [laughs]. That's essentially what we're shooting for. We've been on the path to success so far. A lot of big names, a lot of big people are starting to throw our group's name around and reaching out to us in regard to that. Especially people who are up for reelection or want to get elected because they want us to support them.
NW: Which is part of the political machine, but it's also hopefully getting more voices heard. What has your reaction been? Do you think the conversation has moved quickly? Because last month, I didn't hear publicly people talking about defunding the police, and now it's something that's being heavily considered. How has that conversation moved in the past few weeks?
AR: I've heard rumblings about 'the police need less money.' I don't know if you know, but the police unions all across America, and even right here in Pennsylvania. I mean, they're backed by millions and hundreds of millions of dollars. They have access to people that have extreme power, they have access to the best attorneys and lawyers. So I've always heard rumblings about breaking that up a little bit. Just like how you see Facebook getting too big for people calling to break that up.
But as soon as all this happened, I saw the cities nearby us calling for it, I saw the states nearby calling for it. The conversation exploded like a nuclear bomb. And now we're in the middle of the radiation that's happening, the fallout from people calling for that. Because obviously there's going to be the people that call for it, and then the people that are completely radicalized and they're just like screaming, you know, pro-police. I'm not against the police. That's on the record, I'm not against police officers. I know a handful of them, who are good guys. But it's literally just exploded, that's the best way to put it.
NW: Right. So, what are the next plans? Is it more of a day-to-day, or an evolution?
AR: We're definitely still working. There's a lot of things that are happening behind closed doors. We're moving forward with our agenda. We have our usual day-to-day activities, kneeling downtown to answer any general questions. Reach out to people in the group that want to meet up in person, or just have a Facebook Live, because that's kind of easier to get the message out to everybody in the group. But as far as long-term planning goes, there are long-term plans being set in motion. This isn't going to be a one and done. We're going to keep the fire lit. We're going to continue banging on the doors and making sure everybody's voice is heard. This won't stop until the community is where this generation thinks that it should be. Even once it is, we're gonna have to fight to keep it like that, because there's always gonna be people that come in and they have their own selfish reasons for wanting to do stuff.
NW: Thank you very much.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and has been lightly edited since its print edition.