Meet the Black activists behind the '10K' protests in the Twin Cities

People raise their fists as they march in the street.
Former professional basketball player Royce White (third from right) raises his fist during the Black Fourth march through downtown Minneapolis on July 4. White is a co-founder of the 10K Foundation, a nonprofit that has organized and led numerous marches following the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

A former professional basketball player, who has for years suffered from debilitating anxiety, and his friend, a man who nearly lost his life five years ago to gun violence, have become familiar faces in recent Twin Cities protests. 

The duo behind the 10K Foundation — Royce White and Tayo Daniel — are on the front lines of the fight against racial injustice in Minnesota. The group has brought thousands of people to march since George Floyd’s killing and are now working to find new ways to reach equality. 

For years, White said he’s watched activists ask for systemic change and an end to institutional racism. The approach, he said, hasn’t been effective with the government. 

“For us to continue to ask the state to give us something that they don’t want to is absolutely insane,” he said. “If you don’t matter to somebody, you don’t matter to them, and that’s a harsh reality.”

White and Daniel founded the 10K Foundation after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, during an arrest in May. Their goal is to draw at least 10,000 people to every demonstration. 

Crowd of people walk down the street.
Thousands of people march to the Stone Arch Bridge during the Black Fourth march throughout downtown Minneapolis on July 4. The march ended with singing, food, vendors and other entertainment at St. Anthony Main.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Just days after the killing, the group organized a march on Interstate 35W, where a semi-truck drove through a crowd of thousands, nearly injuring protesters. It was one of the most memorable moments since the incident, but it wasn’t the last time the group demonstrated.

The 10K Foundation held a silent march on the Fourth of July, it partnered with others to organize other protests, and last weekend, they gathered with mothers of victims of police violence. 

The 10K Foundation is mobilizing people to march and peacefully protest, but White said its mission is also about achieving sovereignty and independence. When asked about it, he shies from specifics, but his vision also includes economic gains for Black Americans. He’s asking that each NBA player contribute to a Black bank in their city, as he wrote in a letter to Kyrie Irving.

White is no stranger to encounters with police himself. 

In 2016, White said he was sitting outside the HarMar Mall in Roseville eating when police swarmed his car with guns drawn in an attempt to arrest him. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, and the experience convinced him the problem was part of a much larger pattern.

“I just understand where the huge pitfalls are in our system and where they create immediate dangers for the citizens,” he said.

Despite his struggles with anxiety during his time in the NBA, White has gotten comfortable behind the megaphone. For years, he had used his platform to talk about mental illness, and before the Floyd killing, he was writing a book about his experiences.

The country has seen unprecedented protests and marches since Floyd died under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Floyd’s killing ignited the anger of a nation — and also the passions within White and 10K Foundation co-founder Daniel about race and policing.

A person speaks into a megaphone during a rally outside.
Tayo Daniel, one of the co-founders of the 10K Foundation, speaks to a crowd in front of Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis during the Black Fourth march.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

At a Fourth of July march outside the U.S. Bank Stadium, Daniel stood before protesters to talk about his own personal experiences as he urged members of the crowd to do the work of social justice themselves.

“I used to look in the mirror and I used to see troubled things,” he said. “The labels that people used to call me because I’ve committed things that I wasn't so proud of in my past.”

Daniel was a victim of gun violence in 2015. He said burglars, who targeted him because he owned a club, broke into his house and shot him.  

As he sat in the hospital with three gunshot wounds, he remembered thinking — “If I would have died at this minute, what would people say about me at my funeral? What would have my legacy have been?”

After a lot of self reflection, he realized he needed to work on himself in order to help others. Daniel has been a youth mentor and in recent weeks, has taken to activism.

“So many people ask, how can they change the world but nobody really asks how they can change themselves,” he said. “And I think that if we all look inward and realize how can we become better people and how can we change, I think the world would be a much better place."

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