Her activist gene forced her to get involved

June 18, 2020   /   by Damian Cristodero

Theater major Jordyn Caldwell, who organized a Black Lives Matter rally in Fairfax, Virginia, on June 7, took a lesson from her parents and grandparents. Photo by Kevin Krisko.

When Jordyn Caldwell was 10 years old in Avon Park, Florida., her grandparents and parents took her through their neighborhood, gathering names on a petition to reform the local police force Caldwell recalled as “so corrupt.” 

“That stuck with me,” she said. “We didn’t have to sit there and take it. We could do things about it.” 

That sensibility was front and center on June 7, when Caldwell, a rising junior theater major at George Mason University, saw more than 1,000 people attend a Black Lives Matter rally she organized in Old Town Fairfax, Virginia, with her friend, Sandy Shafik, a rising junior government and international politics major. 

The rally was personal for Caldwell, whose father, Robert, was a friend of George Floyd, whose killing May 25 in Minneapolis, by a police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, sparked worldwide protests against police brutality. 

“The video was everywhere and he was, like, ‘I know him. That’s my Floyd,’ ” Jordyn Caldwell said of her father, who met Floyd at what is now South Florida State College. “I remember he fell into a deep depression. It was just so sad.” 

Jordyn, who lives in Chantilly, Virginia, called her father “a talker.” 

“That’s the way he gets through things,” she said, “so I wanted to provide a space where he could talk about his friend and be honest about race relations in America.” 

Jordyn Caldwell (left) and her friend Sandy Shafik, a government and international politics major, lead the rally march. Photo by Kevin Krisko.

“I was blown away,” Robert said of the rally. “When we pulled in, my wife said, ‘Look at what your daughter did.’ ” 

Other speakers included Caldwell; a member of the local NAACP; Caldwell’s mother, Felicia, who described how her uncle was a victim of police brutality; and a friend of Felicia’s, who is a motivational speaker.  

The peaceful rally, which began at City Hall and included a march to Old Town Square, came together in five days, Jordyn Caldwell said, with the help of Daniel Grimm, deputy chief of police in Fairfax City. 

Caldwell said she did not expect so much cooperation from the police. But Grimm said, “Our position has always been whoever would want to have an event, we want to see it be successful, no matter what, and we want to see it peaceful.” 

Of Caldwell, he said, “There’s a lot of positive energy that comes from Jordyn.” 

As for the rally, social media spread the word. Caldwell said the rally’s Twitter account had 200 followers two days after it was created. Friends amplified the message on their social media platforms.  

“This is somebody who is not going to be deterred by obstacles and naysayers,” said Kristin Johnsen-Neshati, associate professor of theater at Mason who had Caldwell in several classes and who attended the rally with her husband. “She’s really going to stand up for what she believes in. This success is really going to fuel her.” 

“Anybody can do this,” Caldwell said. “You don’t have to be a politician. You don’t have to be a lawyer, you don’t have to be an expert, but you can lift black voices. Go out, spread the word, donate, sign petitions, whatever you can do.”