‘This is the first step’: After Odessa rally, black family marches on instead of focusing on backlash

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ODESSA, Mo. — As large cities start to make sweeping changes to fight injustice following weeks of protests, some smaller communities worry change won’t come soon enough.

It’s been nearly a week since hundreds of people, chanting “black lives matter,” rallied in Odessa, a small town in Lafayette County.

But easing racial tension in rural America doesn’t happen overnight.

“Since the protest, to be candid, it’s taken the mask off of a lot of people,” resident Jennifer Morgan said.

Organizers of Sunday’s rally said they wanted to bring meaningful change and awareness to the small town of 5,000, but they know they still have a long road ahead.

Arluster Bass and her family have lived in Odessa for at least four generations.

“It was just a loving community,” she said. “I mean, we stuck together.”

But the 73-year-old said in some ways, her hometown has gone backward when it comes to recognizing and acknowledging racial injustice.

“It’s not different for the better,” she said. 

“Being a black woman in Odessa isn’t necessarily the easiest thing,” said Jennifer Morgan, Arluster’s niece.

Morgan also helped organize Sunday’s hope rally, a show of community she said led some to show their true colors.

“These are the same people that have always been racist, but now because of social media, they feel like they have the presence of mind to speak it,” Morgan said.

“A lot of people aren’t as open-minded as we would like to think they are,” she added.

Kandis Bass, another organizer and Morgan’s cousin, expected the backlash.

“A simple scroll down the Odessa community page will tell you why I was expecting that,” she said.

What the mom of four didn’t appreciate is what appeared to be a noose hanging from a tree in one of her neighbor’s yards shortly after the peaceful protest.

The neighbor told her it was a Halloween decoration.

“Even if it was a Halloween decoration, it was very offensive,” she said. “He knows my feelings about it now. He knows my take on it.”

Despite some unwilling to move forward, Kandis and Jennifer want to focus on the positive. 

“I think we’re just going to keep the momentum going,” Kandis said. 

The cousins said the rally opened hearts and minds, started dialogue and brought hope to those who look like them. 

“I think George Floyd has given that push to the door of change,” Kandis said. 

It’s a door this black family trusts their town isn’t afraid to walk through. 

“More people know now,” Jennifer said. 

“It takes working together,” Arluster said. 

“This is the first step,” Kandis said. 

Another positive to come out of Sunday’s rally: A new nonprofit is in the works in Odessa. It will focus solely on offering diversity training and multicultural experiences in schools and businesses in the community. 

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