A Closer Look
Candid Conversations - Part 1
Local Perspectives on Race & Equality
Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen
This world would be a great place if we could just solve a few things! I do have new hope. I look forward to seeing what comes out of all of this.
~ Dondre Bell
To read Part 2, with interviews of Lonnie Brigham, Angela Moore and Sam Liebert, click here:
We all feel the warmth of the Wisconsin spring sun, the cooling from a sudden, summer rain, the softness of an autumn breeze and the bitterness of winter on our cheeks. Everyone, no matter the skin color, feels all of these things in the same way. We experience moments, triggered by touch, that send messages to our brain, evoking the same emotional responses. We all have felt the love when Mom wipes a tear, deep joy in a familiar hug, and the heart skip from a loving caress. We experience these moments of life, here in 2020, in a free country where, supposedly, “all men are created equal.”
Freedom is something most of us take for granted. But freedom is more than a right to be with your loved ones, to live, work and to vote. If one does not truly have freedom from fear, freedom from racism, from discrimination, from hate, and freedom from systemic inequalities...is he or she truly free?
On May 25th, 2020, racism reared its ugly head when Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, suspected in using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. During the arrest, a white police officer knelt on George’s neck for nearly 8 minutes, beyond the moment he repeatedly told them, “I can’t breathe”, beyond the moment he cried out to his deceased mother. For the last 3 of those 8 minutes Floyd was motionless, had no pulse and the officer still kept his knee firmly on George’s neck. The officers made no attempt to revive him.
Photo by 2C2K Photography
All of this was caught on a cell phone video, broadcast to the world. A public lynching of a Black man in 2020. It has shaken our nation, bringing the pain and anger from countless acts of racism woven through our American history to a boiling point. It has drawn thousands of people to the streets, of all ages and races in protests erupting in America's cities and around the world. The people are crying out, “Black lives matter!” Because they do. The time for change has arrived on our doorstep and it’s not waiting politely outside; it is knocking it down.
Reactions to the racism and turmoil, this story, might not be best told by the white journalists, but rather by those who experience racism on a daily basis. It should be told by those who see themselves or their sons in the cries of George Floyd. It is long overdue to hear their voices, to let them speak. No matter how educated, experienced or anti-racist we feel, or how much of an ally we believe we are to our Black brothers and sisters, we must keep learning.
We must continue to open our minds and hearts, even further, to make progress in our understanding.
It’s time we all sit down to listen. It may feel uncomfortable. Let it. The time for change is now.
Beloit Memorial High School Head Basketball Coach
Former Parker High School Freshman Football Coach
Creator/Former Coordinator of CLC – Community Learning Center
Former Youth Advocate for the School District of Janesville
I’ve been in this area pretty much all my life, other than attending college up in Minneapolis, so 36 years now. I was blessed growing up in my neighborhood and in our community in Beloit. We didn’t have a lot of issues with racism in my class at Beloit Memorial.
I was set to go either to Whitewater, where my teammates were going, or to Southwest State in Minnesota.
The football coach there came and talked to my parents and to my coach. They offered me a scholarship. It was probably the best decision I ever made in my life.
I attended Southwest State University up in Marshall, Minnesota, majoring in Secondary Education with a minor in History. I’ve always been a bit of a history buff.
Working with Kids
After working the Before and After School Program with the YWCA, I took a position with the TLP Program (Transitional Living Program), where I was Youth Advocate. Later I worked in child sexual abuse prevention. Gayle Graham and I were both trained for what was called Darkness to Light, now called Stewards of Children. At that time, we were literally the only two who were trained in the entire state of Wisconsin. This was through the YWCA.
Marge Hallenbeck approached me about running the Mentoring Program. I agreed to run it while trying to do two jobs, the TLP program and working part-time for the School District of Janesville.
Later, I helped to start the Bro Program, that was in 2007. Historically, young Black males in the district had not done so well and we wanted to change that.
We started to meet these young men. I already had experience to share from my life in high school, and the late Bob Baldwin brought his knowledge to the program. It then became a part of the SDJs District Disproportionality Plan.
in 2009, I was still running Youth Advocacy and then I created the CLC, Community Learning Center. I developed that from scratch with Karen Schulte and became the CLC Coordinator.
Coach Bell and his Purple Knights team
My son is a sporty kid. He was really into baseball, spent a lot of time with his grandpa who has a huge love for baseball. Jadon could catch like an 8th grader by the time he was four years old. So, I coached his baseball team.
Not having played baseball, I had to study up! I talked to a lot of the guys I grew up with and learned from them. I did that for seven or eight straight years in Beloit.
Eventually, I coached freshman football for Janesville Parker High School. I did that for four to five years. It came naturally, being around kids and being on the football field.
In the summer of 2018, I became the first African American head coach at Beloit Memorial. I hadn’t realized it, but my sister told me, “I think you’re the first!”
2020 - New Conversations
I’ve literally spent the last couple of weeks talking to people who have been reaching out to me. A lot of my friends are firefighters, police officers, sheriffs and doctors. They’ve reached out to me, wanting to hear my perspective and I’ve been listening to theirs.
They’re shocked and appalled that they were not recognizing that someone they call a friend is struggling with day to day activities because of racism. They had no idea. They are trying to understand the systemic racism and things that have been going on in this country.
That’s a huge part of it. I would say 90 - 95% of our country, even people of color, aren’t aware of how dangerous and nasty our history is in America.
In a conversation with a middle aged, white educator, I brought up the topic of Black Wall Street. She had never heard of it! She started to read and read. She was sending me text messages saying that this is completely unbelievable and, “How could this have happened in our country, yet so many of us are unaware of it?”
Where Are We Now?
There are some things in the works.
I know the Diversity Action Team has been making great progress in Rock County. There are some leaders of organizations in the City of Beloit who are now reaching out to other communities and things are getting done.
Santo Carfora and Marc Perry leading a
Diversity Action Team program in Janesville
Beloit Police Chief, Chief David Zibolski, is behind changing things in the culture in the community. And Chief Moore in Janesville has been leading the way, doing great things with the African American Liaison Advisory Committee.
So, there is some progress going on. But I was in a conversation with a local white woman in Janesville, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, and she told me there is still a small group of KKK clan members who meet in the area.
I feel that once we get some solid policies from everyone, and are able to implement them across the board, that’s when we’ll see some real change.
We’re clearly seeing allies step up every single day, and this is amazing. That’s what it’s all about.
Thoughts on the Protests
The young generation is very powerful with technology and social media. When we were growing up, if it wasn’t in the paper, you didn’t know about it. And depending on where you lived, you might only read the local paper. We were only invested in our own little community. In the national news, you might hear if Barbara Streisand won a Grammy, or things like that. People didn’t report isolated incidents that happened to people of color.
Will Smith said, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” Now, we can all see it happening. We even have people who stand and wait on the sidelines at the scene of an escalation to help “police the police”, just to make sure things don’t go wrong.
Unfortunately, these events over the last decade or so have led us to this point. It’s been so frequent, that it’s a reality now.
Messages through art on a boarded window along State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
People are starting to tie these things together, to understand that something is wrong with the system.
On the subject of police brutality, my buddy would say that authority is like soap. The more you use it, the more it goes away. Eager and overaggressive officers who keep overusing their authority will find that, at some point, they’ll cross the line. And next thing you know, they won’t have that authority anymore.
The protests have been fabulous. That has been the driving force behind the change, really. Of course, it’s unfortunate that certain groups have taken advantage of the situation. But the greatest thing is how we’re seeing so many allies in these protests. You also have people calling others out, stopping the destruction and such.
It’s phenomenal for our country, as a whole. The support is so widespread, across the board, it’s beyond amazing! It’s hard to find the words to put it in perspective.
I am very hopeful that this is a turning point. We’re starting to see people emerge from everywhere, speaking out. And people are taking the time to educate themselves.
When I see George Floyd, when I see Ahmaud Arbery, it hurts. I think about all the others and some of the experiences that I went through, too. It’s hard to go to sleep at night after learning about a new one, because I carry that with me. That’s me...even though I don’t know them, that’s me! That could be me at any moment. It could have been me plenty of times.
On the flip side, I’m blessed to know good people. I know great officers and amazing sheriffs, wonderful politicians, people of a different color. I don’t fear them in any way shape or form. I fear the bad apples.
The names of Black victims of police brutality
Photo by Victor M. Corro
Concern as a Parent
I am literally, deathly afraid of the first time my son gets pulled over. I think about it at least seven to eight times a week. He’s 18 now, driving all over and he’s working out every day, trying to get ready for college. He has the strong body of a grown man…I mean he is a grown man. And that’s how they’re going to see him. But I see an innocent, little kid, someone who has never had an interaction with the police.
He’s going to be beyond nervous! Between hearing the stories and me drilling him on what to do during that process...it’s just flat out fear, because he has no idea what’s going to happen!
That’s something no one should ever have to deal with. But, it’s my reality every single day.
When he goes for his runs, I’m fearful. But that’s something he needs to do. At the same time, it makes me nervous. That should not be. I’m anxious for one phone call, if the wrong person shows up on the scene and that’s it…I don’t ever get to see my son again. That’s a reality for me.
What’s Next for Society?
I guess we have to learn as a society to put good first until we see bad in people. And I think we’re completely the opposite - we’re looking to hang people out to dry as fast as we can, until something proves different. It’s always negative. Things happen so fast; people are reporting on things so fast. We may not have all the tidbits of the story, yet we’ve already judged that person based off an initial response or something that we’ve read. And it may not even be true!
Messages through art along State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
We have to get away from that. We have to be a loving and caring nation. I believe it’s inside of us, we literally have to just turn it on.
This revolution, these protests, this is going to turn America. Like when 9/11 happened…it didn’t matter where you were, who you were, everyone pulled together, you could feel the energy. It was a moment we shared.
There have to be national policies across the board, standards for every officer across the board. The training has to be the same so that they all know how to handle these situations and we get the exact same outcomes…that each person is treated the same in similar incidents. I honestly don’t think that’s difficult to do.
Organizations and Businesses
In Rock County, we need to bring in as many different voices and stakeholders as possible.
Things like this story, the wide audience reach, we have to have these courageous conversations and continue them. Don’t be afraid to speak up and correct others. It’s not that we have to be mean about it, but just try to help people to open their eyes.
We have to remind others that beyond the problems the majority faces, there is an entire system out there that is holding our race of people back. It’s built into the system. We have to systemically change our policies and look at every single portion of society to figure out what angles we can tweak and change.
We know about gentrification, we know about disproportionate rates of incarceration, we know all these things that have been done. We have to reverse them!
I do have renewed hope. I really think it’s going to happen.
My buddy and I go back and forth on the issues. Sometimes we debate on social media, but we also have our own private discussions. And even though we don’t always agree, we have a mutual respect. He has literally been hurt by this entire situation. He has been a supporter of the protests and calling people out who have not been doing their part. It has warmed my heart; it has blown my mind.
Anyone can change. All it takes is a little reading and a willingness. That’s it. It may not happen in my time, or for me, but perhaps we can change it for the next generation.
Just think of a whole new generation growing up and not fearing the police and working in tandem with them and not actually having to fight against them.
This world would be a great place if we could just solve a few things! I do have new hope. I look forward to seeing what comes out of all of this.
Santo & Jeanne Carfora
Diversity Action Team Leaders
YWCA Woman of Distinction Award (Jeanne)
African American Liaison Advisory Committee (Santo)
YWCA Volunteer (Jeanne)
Red Cross Volunteer (Santo)
Santo: We started our marriage here 50 years ago in August!
Jeanne: I was teaching at Van Buren Elementary. Santo took a job at Craig High School. The rest is history!
Santo: I volunteer for the Red Cross as well as work in diversity training with them. We credit Leslie Brunsell with being the grandmother of Diversity Action Team. It started with a group from the AAUW (American Association of University Women) who were trying to figure out, “What do we do? People of color come into this community and they don’t stay.” Along with Leslie and Neil Deupree and Judy Kneece, I was one of the founders.
Jeanne: Aside from Diversity Action Team, much of my community involvement has been with the YWCA. The child care staff and I started the “You, Me and Our Colorful Community”. We've had many, many volunteers with that program and we were able to reach students through the YWCA Before and After School program.
Race Relations in Rock County
Santo: We’ve made progress because more people are talking about diversity than they did 50 years ago. Our demographics have changed, there are more people of color in Rock County than there were 50 years ago in 1970.
When we look at the changes…yes, there have been changes. Some of it has been natural, with people moving into the community, and other changes are the result of people coming in and people reacting and not responding. To me, that’s the wrong reason for doing diversity work. We should be doing it for the right reasons, to make them feel included and welcomed.
People and organizations have been reaching out, interested in talking to me about what they can do for our business community.
The 2013 Race for Justice Event
The Janesville Gazette published a great article by Greg Piefer, CEO of SHINE Medical Technologies. Part of Greg's statement reads:
“Black lives matter. The need to speak out against racism, racial injustice and inherent bias compels each of us as leaders in our community to act. Not just in the short term in response to tragic events, but for permanent and lasting change.”
~ Greg Piefer, Shine Medical Technologies CEO
Jeanne: I feel that every business, every organization should be making a statement. It’s the time to act, to speak up, to let the community know where you stand, and not just by words. They need to show it by action. It’s one thing to have a hiring policy, including a diverse population, and it’s another thing to make all people feel welcome while working in that business.
Santo: It’s difficult for the boards of organizations to recruit people of color if that person feels they are being recruited simply for that purpose. They should be recruited because a board feels they need a person of color to bring what they have to offer to the table. We don’t always think alike and unless you can walk in someone’s shoes, you don’t know their views.
Our Diversity Action Team board has 4 people of color on our board of 10. That’s 40%. We try to make a conscious effort to find people who can bring their unique perspectives to the table.
Jeanne: I know Angela Moore has been working hard with the YWCA and has brought in some terrific people to their board. I’m really impressed with that. With our DAT programs, we’ve been bringing in more people, 50 – 75, to our monthly programs. That’s really encouraging to me. Most are still white, but that’s okay. We have a lot of work to do.
So many of my friends say, “Well, I don’t really know how they feel because I don’t have any Black friends.” Living in Janesville makes it hard to meet people of color. Sometimes my friends say, “I wish my children could have a play group of diverse children.”
Latinx dancers at a local, DAT multicultural picnic
The Role of Social Media
Santo: It depends on which network you want to tune in to, whether it’s a positive or negative. I’ve seen a lot of pushback. Sometimes it’s even coming from people in the Black community, in posts on YouTube and such, like statements saying, “This isn’t what we’re all about.” I saw something from a young Black woman, who truly didn’t know her own history. This is a sad reality.
Santo: These protests are important. There’s a place for them, and it’s so unfortunate that we need these protests to make change.
They’ve been interracial and intergenerational, which has been helpful. A lot of millennials are involved in these protests.
Our generation was very involved in the 60’s and we thought, “Oh my gosh, this is the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to have change forever!” But it didn’t last very long. It ended with assassinations; Both John and Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and more. A lot of people were killed.
Today, a lot of people, who are not big “names”, are being killed from police brutality.
Jeanne: I was speaking to a Black friend and I said, “I agree with the protests. I’m concerned about the rioting and looting.”
She replied, “You know, we’ve been protesting for years and it doesn’t seem to get us anywhere. This is what’s needed. It’s unfortunate, but dollars speak.” If words are not enough, many of them feel that something else has to be done.
I asked another friend to join one of our upcoming DAT programs. She told me that she wants to wait and see what’s coming together.
Messages through art on boarded up State Street windows in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
She put so much energy into protesting in the 1960’s and she feels exhausted. She lives with this all the time.
My heart goes out to the Black community, to those who have to think about how they will appear to others on a day to day basis, calculating their every move and worrying about how they will be perceived.
CBS broadcast journalist, Gayle King, was so passionate when all of this happened. She has a Black son and can relate to the daily fears.
We have a very good friend in Beloit, Erik, a younger Black man who calls me “Mom”. When Santo had surgery last year, he was concerned and said, “Anything you need, I’m here for you.” He showed up at the hospital, as well, just to be there for us. When I saw the officer’s knee on that man’s neck, I thought of my friend, Eric.
Santo: I work with a great police academy up in Minnesota, actually located on a reservation. Most of the cadets are whites, with maybe a few Native Americans and maybe one or two Black individuals. When we started out, we had about 50-60 cadets.
The last time I was there, we had about 35. Usually a person of color works along with me. Well, the very first time we brought up the topic of “privilege” you could see them tense up, getting really upset. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife. Ugh. My colleague noticed it immediately.
Needless to say, we had an in-depth discussion about privilege. There was push back. We focus on the fact that we don't do it to give white people blame, shame or guilt. As a matter of fact, when that happens, the tables are turned and it becomes about 'us' and not 'them.' Most 'get it' after a series of exercises and a video or two. Our hope is that they think about this concept and to understand why people of color feel so marginalized and often untrusting of white people. We want to build bridges. We want all people to have an opportunity to receive the same privileges.
In Janesville, Chief Moore has been working with the community through the African American Liaison Advisory Committee, of which I am a member. George Floyd was shot on a Monday, Chief Moore called me on Tuesday morning. He wanted to weigh in on the fact that he was so upset by what happened to George Floyd. He was just devastated and said that we just don’t need this. It’s very sad and unfortunate.
I suggested we have another AALAC meeting to give the Black community an opportunity to weigh in on this. We need to know how the community feels, to learn about their trust or distrust of the police and what we can do about it. Chief Moore intends to get us together soon.
I have a Black friend who works for the state and, after George Floyd’s murder, I asked him, “How are you doing, how are you handling all of this?”
He said, “I’m devastated. One thing I never told you is that when I get in my car in Janesville, I put my phone and my billfold on the passenger seat. It’s not if I get stopped, it’s when I get stopped. I’ve probably been pulled over in Janesville more times than you have in your 50 years here.” And this happens here in Janesville, where the police chief is a really good guy.
This friend is married to a white woman and they’ve been stopped going to Perkins after church. The officer said, “We stopped you because your car fit a description of a car in a neighborhood that was involved in a burglary.”
His wife was really angry. She worries every time he leaves their home. He was raised in Texas and didn’t have problems where he grew up, in an area predominantly made up of people of color. But it’s sad that he’s experienced a very different world up here.
Messages through art - State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
What Can We Do?
Jeanne: One thing that we’ve talked about is having some of our Black friends and Janesville friends come together to have a nice dialogue. But, with the pandemic, we’ve put that on hold for a while.
I would recommend attending Courageous Conversations cosponsored by Diversity Action Team, YWCA and Community Action. These meetings are usually held in Beloit at the Merrill Center or, more recently, via Zoom. It’s a wonderfully diverse group of people, who are very open and honest. There’s a lot of growth to be made there.
Study Circles are also wonderful. DAT used to do these, bringing in a diverse population. It’s good to do this with the local businesses, too. It’s been interesting to me to hear feedback from people about it. They often feel they have woken up.
Santo: It gives people a chance to reflect on one’s biases, to look at themselves and to look at others through activities.
I’ve been doing this work for 40 years and have learned that privilege is not something to feel guilty or ashamed of. As soon as you start feeling that, you’re missing the point of privilege. You have no control over your privilege, of how you were born. But we do have control over what we’ve been doing in our life.
Support for Diversity Consulting
Santo: I give credit to the YWCA for starting the Racial Justice Conferences. As a result, the county got on board to do some training. The City of Janesville had already started to do some training. Marc Perry and I did some work for the City.
Standing Against Racism - YWCA Event
Jeanne: I love the kind of work that Santo does, he wants to bring in others to the table from various groups. But I know it’s important for him to have a person of color working with him and I often encourage him to do this in his work.
The white community has started these problems, so we really do need to help fix things.
On Teaching Black History
I was talking to a friend and he pointed out that it shouldn’t be taught as “Black History”, but included in “American History”. This is part of our history. He is right!
Back when I was teaching, in order to get the curriculum into the Janesville district, I had to offer a class on “African American History”. There wasn’t enough material in the American History textbooks to really do justice to Black history. It was probably one of the most well received classes taught at that time! That was from 1975 to about the late 1980’s.
Then, there were budget constraints and we needed textbooks and materials, so the class was cut. It was a lot easier for them to just teach the traditional American History.
Jeanne: It was interesting, because there were very few Black families in Janesville at the time. Santo’s supervisor told him, “Well, you can offer it, but really, who’s going to take that class?” And they ended up with 7 sections!
Santo: I had never taught that class before, so I worked with my colleagues and it was a really neat class to teach!
A Turning Point & New Hope
Santo: If I didn’t have hope, I wouldn’t be doing this work. My hope is there!
A portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
on State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
What’s happened in the last two weeks has been, on the one hand, really disappointing and sad. I just hate to see people so “spent”. But, on the other hand, my hope is with the youth, the millennials. These protests are also multiracial and multigenerational!
I’m also pleased to see some of these statues representing oppression coming down and the renaming of forts, even if our current president doesn’t think it should happen. Put these statues in a museum, but not in public squares. Why should we be honoring people who fought against our own country during the Civil War, why should we honor traitors? It’s long overdue.
I have a lot of hope that we can change one life at a time. If I can do a training and have one or two people change their thinking, it’s worth it. That’s important to me.
Jeanne: I definitely do feel that this is a turning point. I really am hopeful. I’m looking forward to the Black leaders stepping up and the white leaders doing so. I look forward to seeing them working together!
During this pandemic, I struggled with the whole idea of nonessential workers and our essential workers and the extreme variance in wages. This pandemic made us realize that there are so many people of color who are really the most important. They don’t have the luxury of staying home and being safe. They have to come out into the public. And the disparity is so obvious.
During the main part of the pandemic, we said so many good things about how the Black and Latinx population were so essential. I’m hoping that we remember that when the pandemic is over, that we will elevate them to the position that they really deserve, both with wages and respect.
With these protests these past few weeks, I’m very hopeful. Santo and I have wanted to see the racial injustices changed. This really is what we’ve been working for our whole lives.
Youth Advocate for the School District of Janesville
(In this interview, Stephanie is not representing the School District of Janesville)
My husband, Tony, and I moved to Janesville in 1993, right after college.
My experiences don’t necessarily represent someone else’s experiences. When we moved here, for my husband’s job, and started looking for an apartment, we experienced racism. As a young Black couple, new to the area, we were told by the apartment manager that they had only one available apartment.
She showed us a particular unit in the far back area of the complex. That area of the complex was noisy and did not have a view. We were not impressed with the place and told her we weren’t interested in taking it.
After which, she said, “Well, we DO have another unit.” This one was more like what we were used to. It was quiet, had a view and had better upkeep. We had one of those moments where we realized that, originally, they did not want to rent that particular apartment to “us”. She was blatantly lying to us when she said they only had one unit when, in reality, they had more.
We rented the place and lived above this elderly, white lady. We befriended her even though she was unfriendly at first. Eventually, my husband would take her food and she would bake cookies for us. She would ask me to sit and talk with her. I’d give her magazines and she looked forward to our visits; a beautiful relationship blossomed from a racist experience.
I have walked into stores and been completely ignored where no one speaks to me. Then, as soon as a white person comes in, they go right up to them asking, “How may I help you?” I have spoken to managers, if I am totally ignored in a store. My skin may be brown, but my dollar is green just like everybody else’s.
You probably haven’t experienced the longer “look” at your driver’s license at the voting polling place as I do, or the doubt in the question as to whether I’m at the right polling place. I have been taking my daughter with me to the polls from the time she was able to walk. I wanted her to grow up comfortable in the voting environment.
I volunteer my time often and donate to a variety of causes, but I choose not to focus on that aspect, for it is personal for me. However, I am very proud that my daughter, Kyla has adapted and lives this same philosophy. During her senior year, my daughter wanted to volunteer at the polls. While there, she was being questioned about her race and why she would or would not vote for a particular candidate; that was both rude and frustrating for her. She shouldn’t have had to deal with that as a volunteer in Janesville doing her civic duty.
Family photo at Kyla's graduation
We know there’s voter suppression, but there can be a variety of things that happen when a person of color shows up to vote!
Some Positive Stories
Later, we had a very different experience. We had sold our house faster than we expected, but didn’t have another house lined up, so we had to live in an apartment, temporarily. The apartment managers were the complete opposite from our earlier experience. The apartment came with cable, but I noticed it didn’t have BET (Black Entertainment Television). The lady was very accommodating and offered to add any channels we wanted. She also offered to help us with whatever we needed.
So, these are two very different stories in the same city.
My parents died when my brother was still young. When he graduated high school, he came to live with us for a time. Well, he went to a party, drank too much and passed out in a hallway of a building. Someone called the police.
So, one of the officers called me and said they’d be bringing him home. I told them that we’d leave the light on. When they pulled up to the house, the officer asked, “You live here? Are you sure?” Our house was in Wuthering Hills. He answered them, “Yes, why wouldn’t I?”
Whether or not they were just seeking clarity or questioning a stereotype, we don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. The fact is, they brought my young, Black brother home safely, and we were thankful to the JPD officers for that. This is how it should be.
George Floyd and the Protests
When I saw that video, I was moved to tears in a way unlike any time before. How gruesome and dehumanizing for a grown man to cry out to his dead mom. That hurt so deeply.
I actually had four white friends who reached out to me. The first was more of an acquaintance, but she reached out so quickly. She is one who is very vocal about diversity and change and she showed me where her heart is, truly. It’s easy to pass out food to people or to go raise money. But, when you have to put your heart and your social capital out there, it’s a little tougher to do.
A collage of protest photos on State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro
So, when you have people who can understand you and who will support you, that means more than anything.
It’s too bad that we had to protest, especially in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve had so many people protesting, not just in metropolitan areas, but in rural, small town areas, in all 50 states. There is so much diversity in the protests, even in different countries. That just shows how egregious the act was and It shows the importance of the cause.
You don’t have an option, choosing between safety from the pandemic and safety from racism and the brutality. The fact that there is protesting during a pandemic speaks volumes.
The social climate is changing and change has to come now. It’s urgent. That’s what the protesters are portraying by protesting for so long and in the conditions they’re facing.
Is This a Turning Point?
It’s already showing that there is a turning point. You hear the term “groundswell” a lot. It’s because there is no denying that something has to change. In every avenue of life, you can see that there are some changes being made.
The youth, the college kids, the school aged kids - they’re not the type who are just going to say, “A change is going to come.” They’re going to make the change! They know that they don’t do themselves any favors by being quiet anymore. They are not going to accept the status quo.
They have the intellect and the energy to make change happen!
When I first heard that NASCAR was asked to ban the Confederate flag, I said to my husband, “Good luck with that.” But, look how quickly that happened! It’s not like they haven’t been asked to do that before, but this time, in this mindset they did.
It’s not acceptable to ignore racism anymore. We can’t use denial and deflection to change uncomfortable conversations. We have to deal with racism directly, straight on.
Steps Toward Progress
We have to get out of the mindset that everything has to be national or global. It’s like that phrase, charity starts in the home. You have to start creating change where you are. Don’t accept racist jokes, even at home. Don’t accept it in your workplace. If you hear it, and it makes you uncomfortable, you have to address that.
Racism comes in many forms. This is why it takes everybody working together, not allowing your message, conversations or meetings to be hijacked by people using the word “all” or stereotyping. If the conversation is about Black people, don’t let the conversation be deflected by suddenly talking about other marginalized groups.
People shouldn’t jump to conclusions, form assumptions and not get to know a person. We need to be given the same chance you’d give anyone else. People of privilege shouldn’t dismiss my experience or my views, instead, believe me and try to understand them.
A white, graduating senior drew a picture in her driveway with chalk in her driveway of George Floyd along with the names of many Black victims of police injustice and brutality. That’s the kind of thing you can do, wherever you are, to affect change.
A friend of mine was walking near Mercy Hospital on the Ice Age Trail and she saw #Blacklivesmatter written in fuchsia chalk. She took a picture of it and sent it to me. It stayed there, undisturbed on the bike path. That’s what I’m talking about…making a difference, no matter how small, right where you are.
Silence at this time is just not acceptable. I mean it’s time to take action. If you are a leader in a business or an organization, you need to speak to your subordinates, your employees, your board members. You have to get a message of unity across to all. Business and nonprofit boards still need to be more representative of the community. We still have a lot to do.
Leaders have to seek out people of color to join in leadership, because we have a unique experience and perspective to bring to the table. We cannot leave out the importance of education in any conversation, because education is the key to change.
We may have to start small, with where we are. As my grandmother used to say, “If you throw a pebble in the water, it’s going to make a ripple.”
Message through art on boarded window along State Street in Madison
Photo by Victor M. Corro