Conversations are happening across the nation. We wanted to share some of the conversations that we’ve been having and listening to in the past several weeks. Writer Le’Shae Robinson spoke with four members of our community about their visions for a more just future and where Lexington fits into the national conversation. Matt Jones used his platform to speak to several members of the Lexington community about race and equality in our city.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to gain traction across the country, Chief of Police Lawrence Weathers, is confident in how Lexington is handling the recent city unrest. “I think as a city we understand why this is happening, why people feel like they need a voice.” Effective communication is key. His own belief for change is rooted in the opportunity for dialogue. “Anytime there is open communication, there’s hope for improvements.” Improvements have already been made with the downtown removal of Confederate era statues, John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge. The statues caused conflict as they stood on the same plot of land that slaves were sold from before the Civil War. It is these types of actions that give Chief Lawrence Weathers hope to see Lexington improve it’s racial relations. He moved to the North side of town as a child and it is there where he began to hear people use the n-word in addressing Black people to show blatant racism. Weathers succeeded nonetheless by focusing on a goal that would allow him to honor his family morals while impacting his community in a positive light. He has served as the Chief of Police with Lexington since 2018. photo courtesy LFUCG
Mentorship and diversity is how Councilmember Angela Evans believes Lexington can begin to improve it’s race relations. As a Black woman she has experienced being called the n-word, unjustified traffic stops, had her presence ignored, and even had her ideas ignored but accepted when presented by White peers. It was intentional mentorship, continued support and encouragement from adults in her life of all races that kept her focused on pursuing her goals and not be deterred by negative racial experiences. “Both of my parents have advanced degrees, and many of my mentors were public school teachers who expected me to excel in school and life.” She makes this same plea for Lexington businesses, “Businesses must establish strategic plans to recruit and retain professionals of color, including meaningful mentor and leadership programs.” Diversity is the next step. Observing the crowds of protestors, it’s encouraging to see a variety of ethnicities, ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds represented. She hopes this momentum for diversity continues within the business sphere. “Business leaders must learn to actually value diversity itself and believe it will positively contribute to their work environments.” photo courtesy Angela Evans
If you haven’t read a Monday Morning Pep Talk email from Coach Colene, how are you even getting your week started? This motivational leadership expert advises everyone to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” After working over a decade in the EEO and Diversity office for the state, Coach Colene knows that it will take conversations that make us feel uncomfortable to actually move us to the solutions we want to see. Elridge encourages people to “listen, ask questions, and be willing to take imperfect action.” As a Transylvania graduate she has seen first hand what it looks like when people move on their values. She graduated in 2005 as one of three Black women. Today Colene sits on the Board of Regents and has seen a significant increase in the number of students who identify as people of color. This is just the beginning of how Lexington can see change through diversity. One look at protestors and it is clear that this isn’t just a Black issue as people from all walks of life continue to march downtown. She firmly believes that “once you become aware, you become responsible” and that this is how our world, community, and organizations can be a better place. photo courtesy Colene Elridge
Diedra Dennie trusts that strategy and action are the key to seeing real change when it comes to racial inequalities. Starting July 13th, she will move into her new role as the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion at Transylvania University. Dennie is relocating to Lexington from Maryland where she served as the Chief Diversity Officer at Anne Arundel Community College. She looks forward to being invited to collaborate with different organizations so she can get a clear picture of what the current issues are on the Transylvania campus and Lexington city as a whole. She believes this will help her better understand what outcomes people would like to see. “Race has been an issue since the beginning of time, it is part of the social construct and fabric of America. Real change is going to require a willingness by those who have agency to do the work and to write a new social contract for equity.” She looks forward to learning more about Transylvania’s strategic reality and how it pairs with Lexington. Dennie will then explore processes and politics as she begins to navigate her new role and new city. photo courtesy Diedra Dennie
This and the following conversations were trasncribed from the June 2, 2020 episode of the KSR podcast with Matt Jones. To hear the full discussions, find KSR on iHeartRadio.
“There are a number of positives happening … These white kids are doing something that a lot of their forefathers and foremothers have not done. They are standing up with and they’re standing for Black brothers and sisters. They are partners. So race is looking a whole lot different to that generation.
“When these things happen, I think there quite often is too much attention paid to the response and not enough attention paid to the underpinning, underlying reality that prompted the situation in the first place, that opened the door for the response. So it’s very easy for any of us to condemn the destruction of property, people engaging in “violent or unruly behavior”, causing a state of mayhem. That’s easy to make a condonation. It’s much harder to look at structural situations that brought it about in the first place.
“Anybody who paid attention to what’s going on in this country for a very long time would not be surprised by what’s going on right now. It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when.
“People have called me all week. They wanna turn me into Harry Potter or something, man. Like I have some magic wand that I can wave and everything goes away, and I’m telling them, look, I’m not saying anything that I haven’t been saying for the last 20 years. You all just didn’t want to listen because you were behaving in a very arrogant way and you felt like the structures in place were just fine and anytime someone said something about it, you wanted to beat those arguments back. And now, you’re dealing with the consequences of that. So I can’t just make things go away, I wish I had that type of power.
“The first thing that we have to do, is to figure out a way to carve out space where we can have some seriously honest conversations about what we’re dealing with. And we’re dealing with a very very long legacy of racial strife in this country that runs beyond Kentucky. Racial strife and supremacy where one group of people in the country has quite often [deciding] they are the only group that has the ability to think, to know, and decide. And they haven’t always used that power with a level of responsibility that makes other people comfortable or even feel humane. We’ve got to acknowledge that first. The first step to healing is acknowledging that you’ve done something wrong, taking responsibility for that and saying hey now we gotta move on and build something different. But it can’t be done in such a way that people are really just delivering platitudes and cliches and you know, trying to get past this moment and the basic structures stay intact. That’s the first thing that we have to do, then build out from that.
“Let’s not engage in reductionism. And let me explain that. What reductionism is, is because something isn’t your reality or something has not happened to you, that it doesn’t exist at all. I haven’t been beaten by police, but it doesn’t mean that physical police brutality doesn’t happen.” photo courtesy Dr. Ricky Jones
“People ask me how we get recruits and all of these kids. I used to tell parents, ‘just go downtown and just walk around.’ The people in this community do not know we were recruiting their kid, they were just people walking around. Whether they were white parents, or Black parents, they walked around and they came back and said, ‘Man, this is just a nice place. The hospitality here, people are just nice.’
“And I do have to take my hat off to our police force, they were very, very good in these protests the last couple of days. I really just talking to everybody – I mean, if you are going to protest, protest, but don’t do no looting. Don’t do none of that stuff.
“If you are also a [student or athlete] of the University of Kentucky, we ask you to conduct yourself... in a very respectful way. I believe that you can do it in this limelight of being a student athlete. So if you want to get your message across get your across by performing and when people are on you and the media talks to you, you can say how you feel and say it in a positive manner.
“I’m gonna tell you what I was encouraged about first, from what I’ve seen. Some of our players were very upset and a lot of them was reaching out to me. I just told them, I said, ‘Look, turn on the TV and just look and see who’s walking with people that look like you.’ And one of the players, I’m not gonna say his name, but he called me back and he was like, ‘Coach, man, there’s a whole bunch of white dudes out there and white people.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. And there’s a lot of Asian people. And there’s a lot of brown people.’ … What I see now is it is like a true racial coalition. Like you see all types of people out there. And they protest and they’re tired. It’s a human thing now. I mean as a Black man, it’s always been a Black thing, but I think white people, Asian people are very just upset on what they’ve seen. I appreciate the people that’s protesting, but we, you know, Black people are tired.
“In our time now, we have so much diversity on our staff and diversity in the athletic department. And I think that’s the biggest thing I commend Mark Stoops on. Mark Stoops has one of the most diverse staffs in college football. … Our players know that our white players stand with them. … Don’t get me wrong, I am pissed on what I’ve seen you know with George Floyd, but I am also encouraged on what I see amongst this generation of young men and women. That’s why you see them marching out there right now
“The only thing I was intimidated by with police is was what could happen, they see me driving nice cars and you know where I live, ever since I got drafted in the NFL, I live in predominantly white communities. You just wonder, I have to say sometimes if I see a police car and I’m driving, and I’m being honest, am I nervous? No. But I’m like, ‘who’s in that car that maybe is an idiot that don’t care who I am, he’s just looking at the color of my skin and I’m driving a nice car.’ And I think a lot of my colleagues, like my family members and friends, feel that way, where you are driving and you get pulled over for driving Black.
“I had an incident when I was recruiting in Ohio and I was on the highway. This guy, a highway patrolman in Ohio pulled me over, and I’m actually kind of pissed. So I get off the highway and go to a gas station and he follows me. He didn’t pull me over, but he follows me to the gas station. I get out of my car and said .‘what’s the problem?’ and he must of ran a check to see who I was, cause you know, they can do that. He was like, ‘Hey I pulled you over because there’s something wrong with your light.’ Now, I’m driving a brand new Infiniti, and I’m sitting there saying ‘there’s something wrong with my light.’ That old ‘your taillight is out.’ I thought that was the biggest BS I’ve ever seen. I just gave him a look like, ‘dude are you serious?’ And he just said ‘sorry sir.’ So you know, it was one of them things.
“So yes, I think being African American, a lot of people feel that way. It don’t matter if you’ve got millions of dollars or ten dollars in your pocket.” photo courtesy UK Athletics
“Our local leadership has to be accountable to people. And, you know, I’m trying to make it clear as I talk across the Commonwealth that as much as you are seeing this locally, we have to understand that this is something that we deal with across the Commonwealth. In terms of lack of leadership on the ground, some folks feel abandoned and unheard and unaccounted for in their communities.
“This is at the heart of my conviction for our Commonwealth, because we got to break these barriers down so that we can know our common bonds, so that we can actually end poverty. And we can have a better future for all Kentuckians.
“Rioters are lashing out out of a sense of hopelessness, which it’s not right. We have to address it, but we also have to understand it so that we can heal. And we make sure no one ever feels like their life is so irrelevant, they’re so invisible that the only way they can be heard is by breaking glass. We wanna make sure glass isn’t broken, but we also wanna make sure lives aren’t broken too.
“It’s really a culmination of generations of abandonment, of frustration, of feeling invisible, of feeling like the laws ignore our humanity... We can be treated as a deadly weapon before being treated as a human being. And it really is a broader message that connects and resonates with a lot of Kentuckians that know what it feels like to be invisible and to be unheard, which is why people are yelling out. Yelling out for justice and for change.” photo courtesy Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
“You look over the landscape, across the nation and in particular across the Commonwealth... You know there are obviously folks within our communities who are hurting. Black folks, in particular, that are hurting. What I try to say and convey is that protests are something that is consistent with our country’s history and seeing, whether it be the ‘60s or other periods of times: protests are integral to our country.
“I don’t have anything against folks who protest. I think they have a God-given right to be able to protest, whatever community is hurting and has concerns they want to address or raise. On the flip side of that, I think there are folks who have tried to hijack a peaceful protest and tried to take advantage of the situation by stealing and destroying and vandalizing property...
“Everyone – in my judgement – wants the truth. And when I say everyone, I think all officials and leadership that are involved in the process here as it relates to Miss Breonna Taylor or Mr. McAtee, people want the truth to come out. So that is a part of my responsibility as the prosecuting authority in Miss Taylor’s case and there will be others... there’s a lot of issues in this country and the leaders have to step up and figure out a way to move forward in a constructive way...
“I think that we owe it to all of our communities of color, all of our communities, frankly, to do better, to engage Black and brown communities and let them know that we are here to protect and serve them just as much as we are any other community.” • photo courtesy Commonwealth of Kentucky