WILMINGTON — Courageous conversations are taking place and all people need to be a part of them, said speakers Saturday at a “United for Equality” rally in Wilmington.
Having gracious and open conversations about racism can be uncomfortable but are necessary, said George Byrd, one of the event organizers.
Speaker Bob Baylor said if racial comments aren’t directed at you it’s easy to ignore them, “but we can’t do that anymore.”
He described the rally crowd as “a terrific turnout,” and asked all of them to not be silent when offensive comments are made in their presence.
“Ask them, ‘What do you mean by that?’, ‘Why do you think that?’, ‘How do you think a person of color might feel about that comment if they heard it?’,” recommended Baylor.
Some of the time those questions will need to be directed to friends and relatives, he said, adding it’s not going to be easy.
Baylor told about an experience that occurred at last year’s Art & Soul Festival in downtown Wilmington. He said he was talking with local clinical psychologist Dr. Bill Kennedy and Kennedy’s son and then Byrd joined them.
Baylor related he quipped “uh-oh, we just hit critical mass” on not having that many black people together. He said within a minute a white guy walked by and gave them the look, even though two of them have advanced degrees and two served in the U.S. armed forces.
“And what is that look? Well that’s a combination of fear, of challenge — ‘How dare you be here and make me feel uncomfortable because I have a perception of how my community should look and you’re not it’,” he said.
Dr. Kennedy was another speaker. He asked the audience, who were getting soaked at the time from a hard rain, whether fish know they’re wet. Several attendees said no, and Kennedy responded “so how would you know if you’re racist? If you’re in an environment that’s surrounded by racism; if you’re brought up in it; if you’ve never been outside of that, how would you know?”
That’s a question we can ask ourselves every day, the psychologist said.
A third speaker was Anthony Cherryholmes, born at Clinton Memorial Hospital in 1989. His mother, who is from Hong Kong, was adopted and his father is white.
One thing he’s noticed in this town, he said, is much denial about racism, adding we need to get past that. He was happy that at a recent local anti-racism event, there were many people driving by and honking their car horns in support.
Like most of the speakers, he said we need to start speaking to each other.
Byrd’s 10-year-old daughter Autumn Byrd addressed the crowd, too. She said she is biracial, and was so happy to see so many people there in support.
She got emotional when she related that people have said she and her sisters were not family “even after we told them” because the youngest of them has a different skin tone.
“And I haven’t really confronted much racial confrontation because I’m just a kid,” she remarked.
“It makes me really happy to know so many people who aren’t people of color are trying to fight for this and trying to make everything all better. I’m just really glad to see that everybody came out today. Thank you,” said Autumn.
Her father later said he wants to see more local residents donate their time and resources to places like Harvest of Gold and Clinton County Youth Council.
“You can’t say Black Lives Matter without taking care of the children in this town, right?” said Byrd.
Earlier he said it’s not correct to say only one side of the table needs self-examination. Asking that people not get offended, he added we don’t talk in school as much as we should that this country was taken by one set of people, and then the wealth of this nation was built by another set of people who were stolen from their land.
At another point in the rally, Byrd noted he can see a Confederate flag from his Wilmington backyard.
A sixth speaker was Keegan Carpenter. Born in Haiti, he was adopted at a very young age into a loving, white family. It’s not something in his control when people look at him differently because he is black, he said.
His experiences with racism include being called “the n word,” stares and looks, people crossing the street so as to not walk next to him, and being pulled over 26 times.
The first time he was pulled over he was 17 and driving the car of a friend’s mother, with her permission. He was put in cuffs and placed in back of a cruiser and accused of stealing the car because it was not under his name. In retrospect, he thinks that happened because he is black.
His big size may also be a contributing factor to how people react to him, he said.
Noting there were a lot of white faces among the rally crowd, he thanked them for being there. “This isn’t your fight but you’re standing with us,” said Carpenter.
Carpenter said there are things on both sides of the racial divide that people need to work on.
Although a heavy, sideways rain blew in not too long after the event started, virtually no one left even though they were soaked to the skin.
Members of the motorcycle club Journeymen, reportedly many of them veterans, were at the event with their motorcycles. They reportedly came to ensure the Veterans Memorial on courthouse square was protected from monument defacement. They stayed for most of the rally, leaving on their bikes while Cherryholmes was speaking.
A permit for the courthouse rally to take place was granted June 22 by the county commissioners. The permit had an added notation stating that all areas are available for the rally except the Veterans Memorial.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.