“Boom, boom, boom,” they all fell, said Ashleigh Strange, regional organizer for Lehigh Valley Stands Up. “He didn’t even have to say anything.”
Hundreds of people packed the streets and all fell on one knee facing Justan Parker. Parker had held a moment of silence for all police brutality victims in shut down streets where pizza, bottled water and chants filled the air.
Within moments, activists that came had fallen into an ear-ringing silence out of respect and in memoriam, with all eyes on Parker.
On May 28, 2020, Justan Parker, executive director for Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley, posted a Facebook status expressing his desire to hold a protest for the murder of George Floyd on South Seventh and Hamilton streets in Allentown.
“Once he put that status out, it just blew up,” said Kevin Jefferson, Parker’s husband.
Within two days, the mayor and police chief had reached out to Parker to discuss the logistics of the protest.
Parker said he had no idea how big a turnout the protest would have and what a busy day it would prove to be.
On the day of the protest, Parker scrambled. His phone was blowing up with donations of pizza and water bottles. He had to rush to city hall to meet with the mayor, the police chief and other council members.
“Justan was there and he just had this incredible energy,” Strange said.
Parker is a man who is dedicated to a cause he hopes will positively impact his community. He juggles family life, friends and a hectic schedule, but still works to improve Allentown. He was motivated during his youth and now inspires others by using his platform to energize Black people. He is determined to make changes in his community through protests and rallies.
Parker didn’t just choose to be an activist one day — his interest in taking a stand started during youth.
He attributes his involvement with community action and justice to his grandmother. She had a degree in sociology and was a strong activist in their family and community.
From a young age, he would listen in on her work and courses.
“Activism just surrounded her,” Parker said. “Whether it was a student union protest or anything else.”
Parker said his grandmother was his inspiration and one of the reasons he deems it important to stand up and speak out.
Now, Parker uses his platform and personal relationships to inspire others around him.
“When I was younger, he was always able to help me realize what was important and has helped me to grow as a young woman,” said Shaqwana Griffin, a longtime friend of Parker, mother of four and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley.
Parker works closely with many people, Griffin and Strange included, who think of him as more than an activist.
“I think what a lot of people see is that Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley is an extension of Justan,” Strange said. “What people don’t understand is that he is not Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley.”
Outside of work and activism, Parker is a father of two children, a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son, with Jefferson. He loves the holidays and enjoys cooking and singing, which carried over from his time in the church.
“I feel like if I wasn’t in this arena, I’d probably be a singer or an actor,” Parker said.
Parker works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., runs a nonprofit organization and still finds time for the people important in his life.
“He’s ready to throw down, whether you need help getting a march together, or if you need somebody to drop off some groceries,” Strange said.
Jefferson said he is a man dedicated to his community, people and family. He’s not just a partner — he’s a friend and role model.
But his road is not easy. Parker still lives the reality that he is a Black man in a white man’s world.
“I feel as though my skin color is weaponized to a sense where I could be walking down the street and be a cause of suspicion for a police officer, or a cause of fear in an older person,” Parker said.
The challenges he faces are on a personal and structural level. Parker expressed his concern with the lack of diverse representation in community decision-making with council members and other city officials. He said the implementation of certain programs, such as housing first initiatives, has proven to be riddled with hindrances and roadblocks.
Despite this, Parker has his eyes set on some goals, such as reallocating funds from the police department and putting them into the community.
One of his most significant accomplishments was convincing city officials to publicly release the police department’s “Use of Force” policy, which dictates the amount of force necessary for police officers to de-escalate situations.
Parker said he believes it’s important for people to understand how they are being policed and how to properly handle an encounter.
“Justan is what Allentown needs,” Griffin said. “I’m happy that we have him.”