Two Duluth women have been gathering people around the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial for the past week to share food and continue to demonstrate in the wake of George Floyd's death while in custody of the Minneapolis police.

Lamarquita Leach has been literally camping out on the corner of East First Street and Second Avenue East. She attended the protests May 30 in Duluth and said she felt drawn back to the memorial the following day.

"Something was telling me to go back here on Sunday, and when I got here, a woman was about to throw away all the posters and stuff that everyone made," Leach said. "They made the excuse that the tape was vandalizing the monument, and I was like, 'Really, is it the tape you have the issue with or the message behind it?' That lady didn't think about what she was doing."

Protesters take a knee and observe a moment of silence  for nine minutes Thursday night while demanding justice for George Floyd at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Protesters take a knee and observe a moment of silence for nine minutes Thursday night while demanding justice for George Floyd at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

After vandalism on the memorial May 30 was cleaned up, Leach decided to stay there to ensure the posters, candles, flowers and other items remained undisturbed. She also started cooking out daily and inviting people to join.

"Not too many people have come by," Leach said. "But I keep going. I'm out here trying to do a good thing."

Whenever someone comes to the memorial, she jumps up to ask them if they're hungry. Some members of the community have donated hot dogs, brats and water to her daily picnics.

But not everyone has been friendly.

"There was a gal who came here, and she was saying things against the 'Black Lives' movement. The next day, she came back again, and I asked her if she was hungry or if she wanted some water, and at first she was rude," Leach said. "Then she looked up at me, she realized I was trying to do a good thing. So then she said, 'Thank you for offering.' Sometimes all it takes is one person."

Lamarquita Leach of Duluth hugs Angela Robertson an investigator with the Duluth Police Department Thursday night at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth. Leach has been camped out at the site all week to make sure that no one vandalizes the memorial or tributes to George Floyd.  (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Lamarquita Leach of Duluth hugs Angela Robertson an investigator with the Duluth Police Department Thursday night at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth. Leach has been camped out at the site all week to make sure that no one vandalizes the memorial or tributes to George Floyd. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Leach mostly cooks in the afternoons and early evenings. After 9 p.m., the memorial has become the center for protesters to gather for a candlelight vigil and march.

These weekday marches have been organized by Kirsten Kelley. She was also inspired by the large gathering in Duluth on May 30.

"On Sunday, I woke up and thought, 'OK, now what?'" Kelley said. "My thought is that we can't take days off from this movement right now."

Kelley started meeting with a group of four friends at the memorial Monday. They sat with candles and paid their respects. By Tuesday, word spread, and 30 people were at the 9 p.m. vigil.

A police car with lights on races up Mesaba Avenue past a group of marchers demanding justice for George Floyd in Duluth Thursday night. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
A police car with lights on races up Mesaba Avenue past a group of marchers demanding justice for George Floyd in Duluth Thursday night. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

"Lamarquita said we had enough people to start marching, so that's what we did," Kelley said. "We marched around the block."

By Wednesday, the vigil and march had grown to approximately 100 people.

"We chanted so hard that night, some of us lost our voices," Kelley said. "But it's so important that we don't grow silent. I'm not going to stop these weekday marches until we see changes being made."

The vigil and marches are held weeknights because Kelley said many protests are planned for weekends, and she doesn't want to create a scheduling conflict.