Atlanta activist, 19, organizes protest at Stone Mountain

Zoe Bambara stands in front of Confederate Hall  at Stone Mountain Park with a modest few people and broadcasts her speech via Instagram live on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Photo: Special to the AJC)
Zoe Bambara stands in front of Confederate Hall  at Stone Mountain Park with a modest few people and broadcasts her speech via Instagram live on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Photo: Special to the AJC)

An hour before a demonstration against racism and injustice, Zoe Bambara sat in a Stone Mountain Park courtyard meditating and making a protest poster.

On one end of courtyard sat a building called Confederate Hall. On the other side was Stone Mountain itself.

Until late May, Bambara had aspired to be a skin care specialist or lash technician. But in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor’s death in an officer-involved shooting in Kentucky and a series of national marches against police brutality — the 19-year-old Parkview High School graduate said she found a new purpose.

RELATED: Activists decry 'outsiders' who hijacked peaceful march for justice

In two days, Bambara  helped organize the #ATLFORUS protest in Atlanta, a gathering of people who marched from Centennial Olympic Park to the state Capitol. Some said the May 29 event was larger than protests many experienced activists had planned during their entire careers.

The Stone Mountain protest she hosted the following Thursday was in high contrast to that. That was by design, Bambara said.

ExploreCOMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta protests

For decades, black people have viewed the famous granite monolith as both the rock and the hard place. It has a long history with racist organizations including the Ku Klux Klan, who in 1915 held a rally symbolizing the “rebirth” of the organization. The mountain itself depicts three Confederate figures, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“The people on that mountain didn’t want to see me thrive,” Bambara said.

Despite sharing a name with the majority-black city of Stone Mountain, many worry that the park's Confederate past — and more recent attempts by the Klan to maintain a hold of the mountain — indicates a continued threat to the safety of black protesters on the property.

RELATED: State to help city of Stone Mountain shed its old reputation

Bambara said she received no pushback from Stone Mountain city leaders while planning the event. She said her event permit was approved in just 18 hours.

But still, Bambara kept the news of the protest close to her chest.

“Stone Mountain has a strong history with the Confederacy, and I know that scares people,” she said, adding that she only told people who she trusted would feel comfortable participating in the demonstration.

During the rally, Bambara stood in front of Confederate Hall with a modest few people and broadcast her speech via Instagram live.

“Confederate soldiers fought to continue to oppress my community, with white supremacy running through their veins,” she said during the speech. “We know who and what those soldiers stood for.”

Soon after, the demonstrators dispersed with nearly as little ceremony as when they first gathered.

It did not discourage Bambara; rather, she was encouraged by how peaceful the evening was. The teen contended she will carry that peace into the next event she organizes.

Bambara and fellow activist Mary Pat Hector on Sunday will host the #SayHerName March in Atlanta. Protesters will gather in Cleopas R. Johnson Park to march to Atlanta’s City Hall.

Bambara knows there is still work ahead.

“I know I can’t save everyone,” she said. “But I want to protect as many people as I can.”