After their Black Lives Matter signs were torn down, this group of Niceville teens and young adults decided to fight for the cause even harder.

NICEVILLE – Hundreds of protestors marched from Niceville City Hall to the Niceville Skate Park on Sunday afternoon in support of the amplified Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd.


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Among them were many Niceville High School students and alumni, some of whom had recently spent days making Black Lives Matter signs they placed along the fencing around Niceville High School. They received permission from Principal Charlie Marello after being denied permission to place signs on the pedestrian overpass.


But as they marched for a cause they believed in, someone dug their heels in hard against them – stealing the majority of the signs and leaving others in shambles on the ground.


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Niceville Police Chief David Popwell said the Department has been notified and the crime is under investigation. A student involved with posting the signs who seeks to remain anonymous said they will file an incident report Wednesday night.


The stolen signs only emboldened their mission.


Niceville High School alumna Hannah Schneidewind said more than 75 community members ages 17 to 22 have joined a GroupMe group text message to discuss the movement and how to raise awareness. In less than 24 hours, they raised $4,000 on a GoFundMe page with a $4,500 goal to put up a Black Lives Matter billboard at the soccer fields near Northwest Florida State College and raise awareness through other organizations and events.


"We wanted to find a permanent solution to keep Niceville thinking about this," Schneidewind said. "To keep something active that’s going on in the community even once a lot of us in this group are back at college soon. We just want to make sure through this GoFundMe that as many people in the community can have their voices heard and have them heard loudly."


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While Schneidewind didn’t initiate the local movement, she helped establish the GoFundMe, because she has experience fundraising as a member of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Project MPossible. She is simply an ally to the cause who wants to make an impact, she said.


Their mission has grown beyond what she imagined. Three groups of teens and young adults once separately putting up signs around Niceville have since united for the same goal.


"A lot of people think Niceville is a lost cause," Schneidewind said. "I know there had been a lot of concern or confusion that this couldn’t happen. There is still hope for Niceville. If anything in the past week has been made clear, it’s that change will happen and change will continue happening as long as these young adults continue using their voices."


Jaidé Howard, a recent Niceville High School graduate, is one of those voices. She got involved when instead of eating lunch, used her lunch break from work to put up posters and draw on the sidewalk at Niceville High School. She provided a written testimony to share her perspective.


"I grew up all over the states as a military brat but moving here was an eye opening experience. For the first time in my life I understood what it meant to be the minority. It’s having kids scream the ‘n’ word at you while hanging out of their car after a pep rally. It’s having people lock their cars and clutch their purse tighter when you walk past with your dad. It’s having to change your entire personality to feel accepted with your peers. Have you ever had another person tell you, ‘You aren’t like the rest of your people. You seem so educated and kind.’ As if insinuating my PEOPLE aren’t doctors and lawyers just like everyone else. This community thickened my skin and numbed my heart. Seeing so many people in support of our cause makes me feel less alone, but the amount of people against basic human rights reminds me the fight is not over, and I won’t rest until it is. I heard this weekend, ‘Learning only happens in discomfort,’ so if our signs and protest make you uncomfortable, please consider you might need to take the time to learn your own heart. Because I matter just like you do."


Even the small encounters of racism she and her family have experienced over time add up, she said. But she doesn’t let it consume her.


"I could take my time and be sad about it, or I could take the anger and the passion and use it toward something positive, like my future goals or the protests we’re organizing," Howard said. "My efforts could go somewhere else rather than just being angry."


One of the ways she is redirecting her energy is through the group’s organization of a family friendly cookout for the Niceville community, she said.


"Cookouts are a big thing in the Black community," Howard said. "When people eat, they’re happy. We’re trying to make a good, positive event that takes away a little bit of the intensity of the situation."


While the young adults continue to fight for their beliefs, it has been intense.


Many of them have experienced backlash after local news outlets reported on the destroyed signs, Schneidewind said. Some retracted their previously publicized names.


"Members in the Niceville BLM group that are dedicated to the cause, and will not be silenced have chosen to not be in the spotlight as they don’t want to receive retaliation," Schneidewind said. "The young adults who have had their names mentioned in recent publications have received threatening emails, texts, and calls as a result."


Howard, one of six children, said her entire family has been involved in the movement. They all went to the protest together.


Her parents are supportive, but concerned, too.


"They’re a little bit worried for my safety, which is a genuine concern," Howard said. "But if there’s any cause worth dying for, I think basic human rights is the one for it."