Meet the New York creatives distributing protest kits on the frontlines
Photographer Sophia Wilson has collaborated with Procell to create 'City Kits' filled with vital supplies for Black Lives Matter protesters.
Photos by Jonas Bardin.
When 20-year-old photographer Sophia Wilson joined protesters in New York, calling for justice following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many other Black people in the US, at the beginning of what now is over 20 straight days of demonstrations, she realized quickly how “dangerous and exhausting it is out there”. Wanting to help those on the frontlines, she started making kits full of supplies for protesters with her friend Silver. What started as a small, self-funded operation in her apartment, is now an organized volunteer base creating and distributing City Kits, in partnership with Delancey Street vintage emporium Procell.
“In the beginning, each day my friend Silver and I would figure out a different person’s apartment to make supply kits out of,” she says. “It got hectic really quickly, we had so many packages to give out.” After putting out a call on her Instagram for volunteers to help distribute the kits, they got overwhelming responses of interest. Her volunteer base began with people who wanted to protest or help protesters but were unable to be there physically. From there, the account for City Kits was created.
Because apartment jumping was no longer a viable option to keep up with the demand, Procell owners Brian and Jessica Procell offered their store, currently empty due to the global health crisis, to the volunteers. “We just saw a lot of people protesting and have known Sophia for a long time,” Jessica explains. “We thought it would be a great way to utilize the space, support Sophia and support protesters.”
During the pandemic, Brian and Jessica decided not to create an online shop and instead had the space ready to support the community. “Brian and I have spent the last eight years building the store and gallery as a community place. We built it to be something you can come experience,” Jessica says. “If you look back through our Instagram, that T-shirt about cops beating a suspect, those have always been the kind of T-shirts that we’ve posted. That’s not something new for us. We’ve always stood against racism or racist acts.”
Using Procell as their base, the growing list of volunteers have been able to distribute over 1,000 kits a day, on the busy days, and “thousands on thousands” overall. Packed in a paper bag, the kits currently include: a protein bar or a snack, gloves and masks, hand sanitizer and water. “During the first few days of the protests so many people were not wearing masks, especially police officers and they were getting so close to everyone,” Sophia explains. They recently added a New York state voter guide and, at the start, were including ear plugs and goggles in the kits. “In the beginning it was very real that you could be tear gassed or need a medic kit,” Jessica adds. “While the protests here are still very large, the likelihood that you would need protection from tear gas or something like that has decreased significantly.”
Through email, the core volunteers organize their staff each day, breaking it down into who is distributing to protesters, donating supplies or coming into the store to pack kits. On the ground, the response has been “phenomenal.” “People have said it’s very much something that they need,” Jessica says. “I think a lot of people are protesting for the first time so you don’t realize you will run out of water and you will want to refresh your hands.” She hopes this is a time where people are open to information, educating themselves and getting more involved on a knowledge level. They’ve also stayed in touch with other friends and a shop in Brooklyn, who are also distributing protest supplies and sharing resources.
“This wasn’t a giant plan to create an organization from the start,” Sophia explains. “But now that we have these resources we’re trying to think of ways to expand.” While she doesn’t have a clear answer on how this will evolve, she does want to create a flyer for how people can create City Kits from their home, after a lot of people have messaged her who don’t live in New York. For the meantime, they’re continuing to adapt every day to best support the protesters' needs. “We’re going to try and do this for as long as possible, until the protests die down, which hopefully isn’t soon, and I think it’s really cool that people who aren’t necessarily activists, but are artists can come together to create awareness that otherwise wouldn’t be raised,” Sophia says. “It’s important to collaborate with as many people as possible because at the end of the day, it isn’t about us. It just happens to be us creating these City Kits.”
Sophia and Jessica both echo that they’re still looking to collaborate with other stores, brands, people and volunteers. Donate through PayPal or email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer with City Kits.