Insurrection: Through the Eyes of Black America

Jan. 6, 2021, will be remembered as one of the darkest days in the history of our republic.

A nearly exclusive group of white anarchists, insurrectionists and domestic terrorists came by the hundreds to attack and overrun police, occupy the U.S. Capitol building and ransack it. It was the first time in more than 200 years our Capitol had been breached.

Five people died as a result of the violence, including a U.S. Capitol policeman who was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. Pipe bombs were found at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee along with a vehicle filled with guns and ammunition near the RNC.

In the weeks leading up to the insurrection, the president and federal lawmakers encouraged the would-be attackers and empathized with them. They fanned the flames of conspiracies about a stolen election that drove them to commit acts of sedition and treason in our nation’s capital.

“We love you,” the president said to the anarchists as they occupied our Capitol. “You’re very special.”

The day cut especially deep for Black Americans who watched last year as Black Lives Matter protests were called detestable and un-American; its participants called thugs as the president and members of Congress called for them to be met with violence and military force.

Here’s what it felt like to some of them.

Stephanie Keith/Reuters

I cried. A lot to be honest. It made me feel really small. I’ve had to read comments in the past condemning Black people for kneeling during the anthem, they condemned Black people for protesting in the streets, Black people were called thugs and savages and terrorists when businesses were broken into during protests. All of those people were silent today.

If those “protestors” were BLM protesters, they would’ve been met with police in full riot gear. They wouldn’t have even made it on the steps without rubber bullets, tear gas and violence. The people that broke into our Capitol felt like they owned the place and honestly, they walked right in leaving me to think that they really do. It left me feeling broken, defeated and scared. Especially seeing pictures of a noose and Confederate flags in the halls of our U.S. Capitol.

It was a message.

Bridget Hicks
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Honestly, it made me feel disgusted to be an American. We made it look easy for our foreign enemies to come on our homeland and attack if they wanted to do it.

The president’s comments were not sincere. It felt like he didn’t care about what was going on because it was about him and the people wanting him to remain president. What transpired just blew my mind, allowing protesters and rioters into the U.S. Capitol and nothing was done at all. It really looked like an inside job, how they just took over the way they did. It looked like a movie that you see where they invade the White House, but this time it was the Capitol.

If it was us, things would not be handled as peaceful as it was.

Jasmine Turner
Win McNamee/Getty

I started today feeling proud and hopeful. It was great to read about Raphael Warnock’s historic win and being reminded of the incredible work of Stacey Abrams.

I haven’t found the words to express how I initially felt but it translated to overwhelming grief. So-called patriots attacked our democracy and flagrantly disrespected our nation’s Capitol. Their actions were nothing short of treason but they live to tell about it with big, goofy smiles because they were white. The audacity is infuriating.

Meanwhile, I’m having conversations with my adult-sized, 12-year-old about how to carry himself to make people less suspicious of him.

The question has been brought up over and over again. And it repeated in my mind as well: What if they were Black? It’s rhetorical, of course, because we all know the answer. But this is arguably the most massive, clear and public demonstration of the double standard in recent history.

Racism is a cancer. And America has long ignored the symptoms and skipped its screenings. Today we learned that it’s metastasized. We can’t keep pretending that “this isn’t who we are.”

I believe we can and will be better. We start by swiftly removing this incompetent “leader” who encouraged hate, indecency, and now treason.

Katrina Dupins
Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

Today was a wild one. It felt like a movie or something. Has the White House or U.S. Capitol been taken like that since the War of 1812?

We started the day with Trump supportive of everything going on. Then, he gave a questionable speech telling people to go home. All the while, we didn’t hear these people called any of the things the BLM protesters were being called.

Trump said these people were mad about how they had been treated for the last four years and were cheated out of an election. What about the last 400 years people were treated bad? When these people stand up like this, it’s unacceptable.

I feel 100-percent, whole heartedly, that if these people who took the Capitol were people of color, there would have been a lot of killing. They would have never let it happen like that. It’s a shame that people still don’t see the privilege of color in this country.

Where are the Kyles at protecting that federal government building?

Wayne Dickerson
Erin Schaff/The New York Times

What we saw yesterday was the culmination of fear-mongering and hate that the president has fueled. It is what scholars, military leaders, and lifetime civil servants warned was possible when we embrace so-called “alternate facts” and bald-faced lies as truth while rejecting facts and science.

This happened because too many in our nation have ignored the realities of our past and our present, and have instead clung to an illusion of our past which maintains historic inequalities. Many of my high school classmates tell me that there is no such thing as “white privilege.”

To them, I respond…

White privilege is believing that insurrection and sedition — because you don’t get what you want — is patriotism. White privilege is being able to storm your nation’s sacred halls and still be called a protester, instead of a thug or terrorist. White privilege is being involved in an insurrection against your nation during the afternoon, being walked down the Capitol steps which you stormed, not in handcuffs but walking hand-in-hand with those who swore to protect our constitution with their lives. White privilege is being thanked for that insurrection by the nation’s president. White privilege is being allowed to drive home from said insurrection in your own car, sleep in your own bed, and watch yourself on late-night news without a worry in the world. White privilege is having the police run from you during an insurrection instead of defending their posts. White privilege is having elected officials blame your seditious acts, which were all recorded on video, on Black Lives Matter the following day.

There is no doubt in my mind that had the “protesters” been Black that there would have been a massacre yesterday! 

Brian K. Mitchell, historian and author
Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have never been able to claim that this country belongs to us. That this democracy was built for us. That we will “take our country back” or “make America great again.” Black Americans have never been able to protest as a means to take back something we believed was stolen from us. Black Americans have had to protest because we never had it in the first place.

White supremacy has led folks to believe that only white people can determine who is free. Who can own property. Who can vote. Who can go to school. Who can buy a house. Who is a patriot. Who is a Christian. Whose lives matter. Whose votes matter.

White supremacy will shift itself and convince folks that it’s not about race. Because white supremacy can’t be defeated if it isn’t named.

It’s past time to name it.

Adena White
Reuters/Ahmed Gaber

What happened in the nation’s capital was nothing short of an eye opener and living proof that we as African-Americans — other minorities — and white Americans indeed live in two different Americas. After a day like this, where our Capitol is breached by white supremacists, white rioters and white terrorist groups, there is no way that anyone can deny that there, in fact, is a such thing as white privilege.

Myself, as well as many other African-Americans, who protested for change, the BLM movement, police brutality and systemic inequality had to sit and watch as white rioters climbed walls, broke windows, threw pipe bombs and vandalized the Capitol with little to no resistance from government officials, police, secret service or the Department of Defense. The DOD put out a statement in regards to how they were not going to intervene with military troops and that U.S. Capitol police can handle the situation. The police were caught on camera taking selfies with rioters who breached the Capitol.

When I see images and statements like that after how they treated us just a few months ago, it makes me sick. We were killed, profiled, gassed, beat, called thugs, were told that we were privileged to be living in America, called ungrateful, were given every excuse as to why any Black person in history who was killed by a cop had a logical reason as to why they died, we were arrested for peaceful protests, we were attacked by white supremacists. The list goes on.

The BLM movement, the movement for social injustice and the movement to end police brutality all stood for something.

Colin Kaepernick taking a knee was considered unconstitutional, the “hands up don’t shoot” campaign was ridiculed, NBA players using their social platforms and refusing to play was met with calls to “shut up & dribble.”

The riot from Trump supporters and white supremacy groups that took place had no foundation to stand on. White America was not protesting for injustice or inequality. They were mad about what our nation has stood on for centuries: democracy. They were simply mad.

The clear difference between the two movements are the motives. One is based on change for systemic equality and the other is based on grown adults upset because a president they support is not getting a second term after losing a fair election. That’s a big difference.

Yet, the events that took place at the Capitol have been somewhat swept under the rug. The media coverage around it is mild at best, social media has dropped it for the most part, & the white Americans who do think it was a disgrace, but are also Trump supporters, are being very quiet.

So, how do I feel?

I feel let down again by a system that clearly was not built for us. I feel our country is now the laughing stock of the world. I continue to feel unsafe in white America. I laughed and made jokes on social media about the situation, but in a sense, it was to mask the pain that I felt for my people who were on the front lines protesting for our equality who lost their lives or loved ones and had to watch the red carpet be rolled out for the rioters a the Capitol.

But this is nothing new to us. This is the America we’ve been living in since our ancestors were brought over on ships. This is the America that pushed the indigenous people out and stole their land and named it the United States. This is the America that was built on the backs of my ancestors but yet we have no place in it unless we can shoot a basketball, run a football, rap, or make the latest TikTok dance for white entertainment. This is the America we’re used to. The only difference is y’all are not fighting Black America anymore. Now, y’all fighting each other!

This is America.

Mike Askew
Reuters/Ahmed Gaber

I’m really struggling to put my thoughts and feelings into words. While I’m shocked, I’m not surprised. The rhetoric of people like Donald Trump fanned the flame under what was already brewing, and he went unchecked until the ninth inning. What happened Wednesday isn’t even the worst thing we’ve been through as a nation, but it confirmed what the world already thought of us. The fact that homegrown terrorists could attack a heavily guarded building, just shows how real privilege is in this country. This wasn’t a surprise attack. Authorities had notice. Still, nothing was done. Organizations like Black Lives Matter can organize a peaceful protest and be met with military force. The goal in our country has never been equity or equality. The goal is to give a “little something” away so marginalized groups feel like they’re making progress, all the while knowing that it’ll be shut down the moment those groups push for more.

For those still confused about white privilege, here it is.

White America allowed a young Black woman to be gun downed in her home while sleeping! She still has yet to receive justice! I’m sorry, Breonna Taylor.

White America let a white man from Arkansas break into Nancy Pelosi’s office and take mail without so much as a bullet in his direction.

White America has sat back while little Black boys are murdered by police for playing with toy guns. Somehow, these trained professionals “feared for their lives.” I’m sorry, Tamir Rice.

White America didn’t think it scary when those white men and women stormed the Capitol with real guns. Nope. Instead, they took selfies with and removed barriers for those people. I haven’t read too many articles yet, but have they called them terrorists yet? That’s what they are.

White America has witnessed the events that took place Wednesday and felt shock and horror and the disrespect shown to their nation. For once, they were offended by the Confederate flag being flown. Black America has always been offended. For once, white America was appalled by the noose hanging on Capitol grounds. Black America was appalled when it was hanging from trees in small southern towns with Black bodies attached to it.

Of course, I know there are individuals on both sides that have fought for everyone to have the same rights, access and responsibilities as those in white America. I recognize and am grateful for that. This is pent-up anger directed at anyone that has yet to see and acknowledge the disparities in this country. Am I angry that anyone would attack the Capitol? Absolutely! I’m more upset knowing that the outcome would have been drastically different if they were Black or brown, instead of white. 

Brittany Simmons

Bridget Hicks: For Danny Mo

Bridget was one of my closest friends in eighth grade and we stayed friends during high school and into college. When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to profile her at some point.

But then something happened a few months ago that made me want to profile her right away.

“If You Can’t Talk to a Man of God About This Stuff…”

This summer brought a lot of turmoil. 

As if a pandemic that has killed more than 1.7 million people across the world and 320,000 here at home — at the time of this writing — wasn’t enough, the racial strife surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery brought unrest and violence and all sorts of tension to our day-to-day lives.

We were all left searching for ways to respond, whether it was participating in a protest, being more vocal about certain topics, listening to and learning about the experiences of others in ways we hadn’t before or getting involved in another way.

Celebrities and athletes were no different. Many sports leagues found ways to respond, too. NBA and MLB teams were the most prominent as their seasons were underway when things exploded. There were several baseball and basketball teams who chose to postpone games or kneel in protest during the national anthem.

It wasn’t violent or dangerous or harmful to others. At its root, it was a peaceful form of protest.

So, it was disheartening to Bridget when a local pastor took to social media to dismiss the Black Lives Matter movement and call professional athletes whiny for taking stands against injustices they felt were happening every day and could no longer ignore.

Bridget tried to reach out and offered to speak with him about why he was seeing this response in professional sports and in cities across the country so he could have a better grasp of the situation. Instead of taking her up on it, he deleted her comment.

It was hurtful for Bridget, who spent many Wednesday nights at his church listening to his teachings as a youth pastor.

“He was always someone that was so nice and caring and funny, so it was unbelievable to see him respond like that,” she said. “If you can’t talk to a man of God about this stuff, who are you supposed to talk to about it?”

“We Have to Keep the Conversation Going”

Bridget remembers the first time she experienced racism. She was in kindergarten in Fort Smith, when out of the blue, her teacher asked her to stand up and recite the alphabet. 

No other kids were asked to stand up and recite their ABCs. Just Bridget.

She went home and talked to her parents about it and they told her it more than likely happened because she was Black. All of six years old, Bridget brushed off the encounter and moved on. 

One of the lasting lessons she learned from her late father Danny was that she had to be exceptional at everything she did just to be viewed on the same level as her peers.

There were other experiences like this Bridget would endure growing up, but she didn’t share this with friends, the majority of whom were white.

“I often feared that if I told them about an instance or something in the past, that I would lose some friendships,” Bridget said. “I don’t feel that way now, of course but back in high school and even college, it was tough. 

“It has made me happy to see my white friends break their silence about white privilege and social justice,” she said. “But we have to keep the conversation going, no matter how uncomfortable it gets.”

For Danny Mo

One of the reasons Bridget is more open and honest about her experiences these days? It’s simple: Danny Mo. 

That is Bridget’s 1-year-old daughter. She’s forced Bridget to see things in a new way and become more vocal than she ever has been about certain things.

It’s one of the reasons she reached out to her old youth pastor, and she’ll continue to be more vocal about things that matter to her. She and her husband, Stephen, live in Chicago at the moment, but their plan is to return to Conway sometime in the future. Bridget has already told Stephen, when they get here, they’re getting to work in the community.

“I may not have been able to speak up or speak out for myself, but I can damn sure do it for her,” she said.


A visit to and you’ll find dozens of stories on a host of issues and topics from a diverse group of Black voices.

There’s fitness tips, profiles on local musical talent and artists, interviews with young entrepreneurs, thoughts on Black Lives Matter from a biracial writer, advice to repurpose your screen time and much more. The Black&Gifted blog serves as a venue to highlight Black experiences, stories and talent.

It was founded by Terrionna Brockman in 2016 when she noticed a void of Black voices. We talked with Terrionna recently about how she made the decision to start a blog, the stories she wants to tell, why it is important and what she wants to accomplish moving forward.

You started your blog in the summer of 2016. What inspired you to do so? Was it something you had considered for a long time or a sudden decision?

Throughout college, I knew I wanted to create a blog, but I never dedicated my time to bringing the idea to life. Mainly, due to my workload at the time. Once I graduated in 2016, the idea was still in the back of my mind. I created Black&Gifted out of frustration as a black creative. There was a lack of representation, and still is in the arts.

I went to school at Wonderview, a predominantly white school from kindergarten through fifth grade. I was the only Black student in my grade all those years aside from a few— and I do mean a few— other Black students. From sixth through twelfth grades, we moved to Morrilton where it was a bit more diverse: Black, White, Latinx, Asian. I was surrounded by students who looked like me, which was new, but I remember how great that felt.

Arkansas Tech — where I went to college — is also predominantly white. I was a graphic design major and I was quickly taken back to my elementary years— the only Black student or one of a few. I joined the African American Student Association (AASA), but I had never been a part of a community that was solely for Black artists and creatives.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook, searching for Black art groups. I joined a few and interacted, but I never felt a genuine connection. I felt that those communities were based on popularity and there was no real relationship building or networking. It was difficult to be seen or heard. Black&Gifted is my way of bringing representation to the arts. I wanted to create a community that specifically highlighted the talents of the overlooked and unheard. I sat at my laptop, designed a logo, created a website and shared it to my Facebook. There was no turning back. 

I knew that I wanted to bring other creatives on board, so I reached out to close friends and pretty much everyone on the internet to find individuals who were interested in being a contributing writer. I connected with so many talented Black writers from varying backgrounds across the country. Their perspectives and voices were needed and so relevant to not only Black&Gifted’s mission, but the Black community as a whole. In the beginning, I would say that we were more focused on sharing content through our website. Aside from the talented writers who helped to push my brand forward, I had the idea to connect with up-and-coming artists — fine arts, musicians, entrepreneurs, musicians, photographers, everyone! I featured them on our website and it’s amazing because a lot of the creatives I highlighted in 2016 are still connected with us today. The relationships and support are there, which is so important to me. People joined us in our growth from 2016 to now, that’s wild!

In the beginning we were pretty much online, but when I relocated to Conway, I wanted to expand my brand and did just that. I put out a job posting on Indeed looking for people to join the team. I am so thankful for the group of people who helped to create a presence in the community. Everyone who has been a part of our growth, whether they are still with us or moved on, I’m thankful. It speaks volumes when others believe in your vision so much that they dedicate their time and creativity to aid in your success. It’s such a selfless act and I’ll always be appreciative of each of them.

We did a lot in the community from fundraising, donation drives, open mic nights and our first ever Black&Gifted Awards (2018). Thinking back on those times brings a huge smile to my face. I would go back and do it all over again because of the love, creative ideas, dedication and vision. We were truly hungry and wanted to best represent our communities.

Where did the name Black&Gifted come from?

The name is pretty straightforward. Of course, I’m Black and the creatives that gravitate to my platform are Black — representation. Gifted is a reflection of who we are as a people. I feel that we are gifted in many ways and our talents transcend time. We’ve contributed so much to this world, then, now and will always do so. When thinking of a name, Black&Gifted came to my mind first and it resonated. I am Black&Gifted. We are Black&Gifted. It’s an affirmation.

One of the reasons you started your blog was a lack of representation for Black people in the arts. Why do you think this exists? How do we change it?

The lack of representation exists due to Black people’s unfortunate history. There are many instances where Black people, Black ideas and Black creations are erased or whitewashed. The lack of representation stems from inequality — segregation, others seeing Black people as inferior, and the masses not wanting to see us excel.

One thing that never sat well with me is how Black art — African art — is critiqued, often by our white counterparts. Everything I learned about African art came from books and articles written by white men and women. The information given was not from the people who created the art, but from white people who felt the need to insert themselves into various cultures to understand them. I read an article that said “Black people’s histories are best viewed, but not physically experienced.”

That’s how I feel when it comes to representation in the arts. Change starts with people’s mindsets and learned behaviors changing and allowing Black people to tell Black stories, be it through fashion, music, art, film, or literature.

Why is Black&Gifted important to you?

Because it is my blood, sweat and tears. It’s an idea that I brought to fruition in 2016. I’ve done exactly what I hoped to: connect with the people and shed light on the many creatives that are doing amazing things with their gifts and for their communities. There have been moments where I question my purpose and if people truly support the brand, but regardless I’ve done what I can to keep it alive and stay rooted in the vision. It is my way of positively contributing to the culture and giving Black creatives a platform to be seen, heard and feel a sense of connection.

Why is music so important to you and what do you hope your blog accomplishes for musicians in Arkansas and the region?

I was hoping others didn’t assume we were a music platform, but that’s okay! To be honest, myself and two others contribute to the website and sometimes it’s only me. My way of contributing is writing about something that I’m passionate about — music. Due to the lack of consistent writers, articles haven’t been as diverse. That’s an area that I am currently working on, bringing on more writers to add diversity in content. However, this has been a struggle — finding consistent, talented and committed writers. 

But to answer your question, I hope that Black&Gifted brings recognition to who these creatives are, not only the musicians. I’ve learned that many of the interviews and features that I’ve done have been a first for many. So that alone is something to be proud of, which goes back to the mission of giving Black creatives a platform to be seen and heard. If anything, that’s what I want.

To speak on Arkansas specifically, Black&Gifted is rooted and will always be rooted in Arkansas, but we are not confined to Arkansas. Some of the first writers to join us in 2016 were from different states and cities. We highlight creatives across the country and even internationally. I view Black&Gifted as a global platform! I think that we can show other creatives in Arkansas that they can also branch out. That’s who I am as an individual, too. I’ve always wanted to experience the world outside of what I knew. In adulthood, that was traveling the world and living in different states — Los Angeles, California currently! I want the same to be true for Black&Gifted. We will never forget where we came from.

What do you want your readers to obtain from your articles and posts?

I’d hope that they connect to the articles. One thing I love about Black&Gifed is that each writer’s voice is conveyed throughout the article, which makes it relatable and engaging. I think there’s something for everyone, whether you want to be entertained, gain a different perspective or discover a new creative!

How does the unrest we see in our society impact what you want to accomplish through your blog?

It definitely reassures me that my platform is needed, now more than ever! I wouldn’t say that it is impacting what I want to accomplish, though, because like I mentioned before about representation, this is an ongoing issue. What I want to accomplish has been the same since 2016 — giving Black creatives a voice. The unrest we are seeing today is the same thing we’ve dealt with for centuries. Black&Gifted is a product of our country’s exclusion of Blackness.

What have been some of your favorite posts over the years?

I wrote, “A Letter To My Incarcerated Father” on June 19, 2016. The same month that I created Black&Gifted. It’s one of my favorites mainly because I was transparent and used my voice outside of academic writing. I needed to get that out of my system and I did so through writing. It was well received and provided a different perspective for those who didn’t directly relate and also resonated with those who could relate. 

What has been your proudest moment thus far?

The Black&Gifted Awards, hands down. We held the awards show in Morrilton at the Rialto Theater and it was a night to remember. I’m not sure what I expected, but we had a great turnout. We put a lot of time and planning into the execution of the show. We held bake sales and yard sales to cover the expenses, partnered with businesses for sponsorships, reached out to the community and other creatives to volunteer their time — that’s another thing. The people who helped to bring the Black&Gifted Awards to life volunteered their time when they didn’t have to. That’s love!

I learned that I’m capable of anything — well, that was before I taught seventh grade reading for two years! Lol. But, I really had to step into my leadership and I can say that I’m proud of who I’ve become because of it.

One of the things I like about your blog is the incorporation of outside voices. What made you to include that? What do you feel it adds to Black&Gifted?

Outside voices are necessary and needed. I always want to add value and variety to Black&Gifted. I am one person with a specific perspective and path. I cannot speak for everyone and I cannot relate to everyone. Each writer has something that makes them who they are, which I love. Black voices and stories are unique!

Looking ahead, what are your plans over the next 3-5 years for Black&Gifted?

We will definitely stay rooted in our mission, but I would love to expand our team. I want to work with like-minded individuals who can use their skill sets to help Black&Gifted elevate. Like I mentioned before, we’re rooted in Arkansas, but I’m currently living in Los Angeles, so there’s a lot that could happen. Speak great things into existence for us. I have so many ideas, but I am not ready to share those just yet! We will continue to be a voice for the culture. 

Racism in the South

White people tend to deal with racism in the abstract. We choose not to humanize those who bear its effects, because it’s too uncomfortable. 

It occurs. It’s horrible. It’s rare. That’s typically the extent to which we acknowledge it.

If we want things to change, we’ll need to do more. We’ll need to listen to uncomfortable stories and reflect on how we might be guilty of racist or bigoted thoughts, opinions or feelings and find ways to rid ourselves and society of it.

The first question I have asked every person I have interviewed for the blog is “What is the first racist experience you remember?”

Here are their stories.

“Go Home, Nigger”

I was about 14 years old. I was on vacation to see my grandparents who lived in Covington, Tennessee. 

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was out on a run and a red truck flew by, threw a beer can at me and said “Go home, nigger.”

I kept going on my run. I never forgot about it. That was the first time I was called that. I didn’t think about it again until 8 or 9 years ago when I moved here and started CoHO. Someone sent me a letter, called me a nigger and a bunch of other stuff. 

I was mentoring this group of guys at the time and I read it to the group to let them know some people want to carry silly ideas. I keep that in my book. 

I use it as fuel. 

I don’t get angry or try to say, “White people are this way, all of them.” I take it as an opportunity to say this is what some people believe. I take it as a chance to remind myself there are people out there who need some healing in their mind and heart and go from there. I try hard to understand this individual is more than what they’ve communicated to me. 

Given an opportunity to sit down with them — I’ve sat down with people with white supremacist leanings or some who are OK with the Confederacy in the South — I take it as an opportunity to listen to them and understand where they are coming from.

Phil Fletcher

“There’s Another Door, Nigger”

My mom worked for a company in Vilonia and I was going to work with her one day. We stopped at the Conoco in Vilonia and I walked in to pay for gas and some other stuff.

When you go in, there are double doors and there’s a guy leaned up against the door you would use to go out, and he was speaking to the cashier. Both of them were white. He was a biker and had his motorcycle outside.

I get what I need and check out, head to the door and I’m automatically thinking he’ll get out of the way. He looked at me and said, “There’s another door, nigger.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I’m originally from Brooklyn. We moved here when I was 10. New York to Arkansas is a different experience. I didn’t know what to say. 

I went out the other door and this rage came over me. I was a hothead. I turned around and kicked his motorcycle over. He came out and went crazy, my mom didn’t know what was happening, but she got out when I kicked the bike over.

The girl at the register said she was going to call the cops. Nothing happened, we just ended up leaving.

I knew I was black. 

It’s a lot to process, especially when you have friends of the other race. It makes you question a lot. It makes you question your friends you’ve known for years, question their parents and people they were raised around. 

There’s a lot that goes through your head. You don’t know who to trust, who not to trust. You question your worth.

I think I went through two or three weeks of not wanting to talk to white people at school. It’s tough at schools like Conway, because so many people are white. 

My most recent experience was around 2017. I had just moved back to Arkansas from Dallas and was living and working in Jonesboro. I was doing insurance adjusting at the time and worked in an office with about 10 white guys. 

We went to lunch one day at Larry’s Pizza. I remember I had a blazer and a tie on. We drove company cars there and I drove mine. All of them were different colors and mine was white.

We went in to eat and there was a table of all white guys who I could tell were looking at me, but I didn’t think anything of it.

We finish our food, pay and go outside and I have a note on my window and it says, “Know your place, nigger.”

I didn’t do anything. I walked in the restaurant and ate. I didn’t look at them sideways, I didn’t speak to anyone and that note was on my window.

You become used to it. It’s not that you don’t get mad every time or feel a way about it, but — and I’ve only had a few real-deal ones — you learn to put it in the back of your head and move on. You notate it, I have to get back on my guard again. It makes you build up a wall against white people, again. 

One of my best friends is a white guy. That’s my brother. It was one of my first friends coming here. It sucks because I know there are good white people, but when you encounter someone like that, you get to questioning everyone. 

Mike Askew

“Go Back to Africa, Blacks Don’t Play This”

I was probably 6 or 7 years old and was playing peewee baseball. I’m from Crossett and as a young kid, sports is one of the only things you have to do. 

I was never fond of baseball at an early age, but I was playing and it was my first game. One of the white kids said, “Go back to Africa, Blacks don’t play this.”

I didn’t fully understand it. You know, you’re there to make friends in a cohesive environment. I blew it off. 

Jimmy Warren

“Why Does It Feel Like That?”

I was in elementary school. It was benign. It’s the little things that shape your view of yourself.

I was the only black person in the class, and kids would touch my hair and say “Why does it feel like that? Why does it do that?”

I remember sometimes hearing “You’re pretty for a Black girl.”

It’s hard to admit this now, but back then, I remember seeing it as you’re not good enough. You have to accept you’re not good enough for this or you have to be twice as good to be good just because you’re Black.

Katrina Dupins

“My Dad Would Kill Me If I Dated a Black Girl”

You have to unlearn a lot of stuff. Like when white girls would touch your hair and wipe their hands on their pants. Back then, our hair was straight, we thought it needed to look like theirs.

There was one white boy I had a crush on who said “My dad would kill me if I dated a Black girl.” 

He said the only pretty Black girl he knew was Beyonce. He was comfortable saying that to me.

You learn to brace yourself for those things. It was hard to speak up when you’re the only one. I was never called the n-word, but when I heard it, I  knew it was my responsibility to speak up.

You didn’t want to draw attention to your Blackness. We were comfortable talking about Black history but not calling attention to the fact we were Black. We could be Black at church and Black at home, but we had to hide ourselves everywhere else.

Adena White

Jimmy Warren: Moving Arkansas Forward

If Jimmy Warren is out in public and sees a white woman walking toward him, he immediately moves to the opposite side.

“It is ingrained in me to get on the opposite side to avoid conflict,” he said. “You’re always anxious, always conscious of what could happen and you work to avoid the misconceptions, because you’ve been through what will happen a thousand times in your head.”

When he walks into a room, he knows there is a chance someone believes he is only there because he’s Black. He’s not there to provide insight, expertise or knowledge. He’s there to meet a quota.

That’s why he approaches everything with the mindset of being smarter, doing more and knowing more than anyone else.

“I have to prove myself all the time, because I know some will assume I’m only in the position I am because I’m Black,” he said. “My guard is up to make sure they see my work and I’m not seen as the Black guy who has this opinion or is against the police. You’re automatically stereotyped.”

It can all be tiring. By the end of the day, his energy is generally spent.

“You’re extending yourself as much as you can,” he said. “You run harder than everyone, you have to be smarter than everyone so your anxiety is up. By the time you get home, anxiety has turned into depression because you question yourself, what you want to do and your purpose because the challenges always come.”

Being the father of Black children only adds to that anxiety.

“You Are Seeing It Right Now on Primetime TV”

There are many similar fears among white and Black parents, but there are others exclusive to Black parents and other minority communities in our society. I wanted to know what Jimmy’s biggest fear was as a Black parent.

“You are seeing it right now on primetime TV,” he said. “You don’t want to get that call that your child has been pulled over because in a Black family, your immediate thought goes to what could go wrong. Second, is the call that child has been shot and killed by an officer or in a school shooting.”

But those unique fears extend well beyond a police stop.

“You worry your child will be seen as an other and won’t be engaged by others as a person with his or her own unique qualities, features, characteristics and stories,” Jimmy said. “I want my kids to be kids and for people to get to know them and learn from them and treat them like real people.”

While it has been draining time — physically, emotionally and mentally — for the entire family, Jimmy said he and his wife are using it as a learning opportunity for their daughters.

“It’s been an open process, we’re allowing them to watch the news, form their own opinions, research them and be confident in them,” he said. “Obviously, we share things with them and want to make sure they have certain values, but we don’t let our biases impact them.”

From Citizen to the Governor’s Task Force

There’s a famous clip of the late Kobe Bryant from just after his Lakers took a 2-0 series lead against the Orlando Magic in the 2009 NBA Finals. Kobe is seated at the podium answering questions from the media with a sullen, gloomy look on his face.

A reporter finally mentions Kobe’s demeanor stating, “I’m still waiting for a big smile from you. You’re up 2-0. What’s the story? Are you not happy.”

Kobe shrugged and said, “Job’s not finished. Job finished? I don’t think so.”

That’s how Jimmy Warren described his mentality when I asked how he felt about his involvement on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Task Force to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas, specifically regarding the state’s pending hate crimes legislation, which now awaits passage in the legislature.

“We’ll celebrate when it’s done,” he said. “Until the legislature votes on it, it hasn’t happened. We’ll celebrate when we get community policing, when we get the hate crimes bill passed and Arkansas is a national model.”

As a member of the task force, he wants his ideas to be heard and to be the best representative he can to help move our communities forward.

“I want to make Arkansas a model for positive relationships between police and community,” he said.

Since its formation in June, the group — made up of community organizers, activists, city officials and law enforcement officials — has been tasked with studying and analyzing “the best practices and procedures for recruiting, training and maintaining law enforcement officers in Arkansas,” a release from the governor’s office stated.

The task force makes recommendations to the governor on how to enhance trust between law enforcement and the communities it works in. In July, Hutchinson and Arkansas lawmakers unveiled draft legislation for a hate crimes bill. Arkansas is one of only a few states without a hate crimes law.

“It shows compassion and it shows Arkansas won’t stand for racism, hate and discrimination,” Jimmy said. “That’s personal for me.”

What makes the task force’s responsibilities so important in today’s climate is that it shows people from all walks of life have good ideas and are committed to making our communities better, Jimmy said.

“We all can learn from different walks of life and work together for solutions,” he said. “We have real dialogue to clear up perceptions and training. Hopefully, this catches on and we’re able to have these talks in our communities.”

One incident that has garnered attention and protests in Conway is the death of Lionel Morris. He died Feb. 4 while in police custody after being accused of shoplifting from a local Harp’s.

Mayor Bart Castleberry ordered all police body cam and store footage of the incident be released and asked Conway Police Chief William Tapley to place all officers involved on paid leave while an internal investigation continued.

“I observed some things that were concerning to me,” Castleberry said in a statement announcing the orders. “While the police department has my full support, there are some behaviors that must change.”

Morris’ death was ruled the result of “methamphetamine intoxication with exertion, struggle, restraint and conducted electrical weapon deployment,” according to the Arkansas State Crime Lab.

The officers involved were previously cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Prosecuting Attorney Carol Crews, who stated their actions were justified and reasonable in the situation.

The Conway Police Department released a vague statement on Aug. 24, announcing its internal investigation had concluded and that “the department has addressed any personnel and policy issues discovered during the investigation.” Specifics were “deemed closed and per Arkansas law, not subject to public disclosure.”

“There were things in the body cam footage that raised some eyebrows and brought questions about training and professionalism,” Jimmy said. “The City of Conway and Conway Police Department have said they will make changes, which is a good acknowledgement that there were things that needed to be worked on.”

Jimmy has had personal conversations with Tapley about changes he would like to see made within the department.

“We have to do a better job of repairing relationships with the youth in our community,” he said. “Those in high school right now see what is happening in our communities and our society in real-time and in a few years, they will be our leaders. We have to cultivate those relationships.”

For many inner-city kids, Jimmy said, many of their interactions with police are negative and can include the arrest of a parent, family member or friend. 

“White children have different interactions than most black children,” he said. “They might have an officer who goes to their church or is a family friend. Black communities, and children in those communities, need to be introduced to officers at an early age so they can learn they are helpers and guardians.”

While police reform is important, so is solidarity, understanding, empathy and unity among our communities.

“No One is Talking”

Everything seems political now. No matter the topic or discussion, it always tends to end up volatile, divisive and ineffective.

“No one is talking,” Jimmy said. “We’re still humans and we have more in common than not.”

Part of the problem seems to be social media, Jimmy said.

“We have to be for or against something, there’s no compromise,” he said. “Everyone is yelling, ‘This is the only way, I’m not listening to you.’ There’s no empathy.”

Jimmy tries to show the path to empathy, understanding and the sharing of ideas on his Facebook show ArkanTalk. Jimmy speaks with community organizers, politicians and business leaders about strengthening our communities.

“I hope it brings a period of awakening and a lot of reflection so people can see their own biases and where they aren’t doing all they can,” he said. “In that self-reflection, we need to move into action, be an ally and make sure everyone is protected and begin to speak up when we see an injustice.”

Dr. Phil Fletcher: How To Create Sustainable Change

Phil Fletcher wants to have the tough conversation. He doesn’t shy away from discussions on radical ideas or changes to the status quo, but you better be prepared to back up your thoughts and start contributing to the movement.

I’ve known Phil for a couple of years now and have been a follower of his on social media for several years before that. His posts are always the ones that make you think, address your biases and reconsider your beliefs.

“I’m a curious person, but I do it because I want people to reflect back and ask why,” he said. “I know whether or not to take you seriously. But, at the same time, to ask the question why,  means you need to be willing to hear what people have to say and not dismiss it outright.”

Phil, who runs City of Hope Outreach in Conway, held talks with several groups of local residents as result of the racial tensions and unrest we’ve experienced in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and others. 

First, he talked with Black females, Black Males, white females and white males. Then, the conversation included all males and all females. The subject: How can we move forward and impact change in our community?

Here are some of the tips Phil shared:

No. 1: Don’t Come to Us Out of Guilt or Shame

“If you’re a white person, come to me or another Black male or female from the position of you see me as a human being,” Phil said. “First, love me in that way.”

For those who are feeling guilt or shame because of what is happening in society, Phil suggests taking a breath, before you seek out counsel from a member of the Black community.

“That’s using me or others to assuage your own conscience,” he said. “Just pause, don’t say anything, reflect on how I am a full human and, then, come to me and we can do things together.”

No. 2: No Sin in Their Skin Color

“My goal is for them to understand they are image bearers of God,” Phil said. “God made you that skin color for a reason, I leave that wisdom to him.”

Still, it is vital to acknowledge and understand where a Black man or woman may be coming from and to listen and learn from their experiences in this country.

“Everyone’s experience is different, but there are commonalities,” Phil said. “There are things that contribute to the differences. If you’re trying to listen and learn, figure out ways to act.”

The best way to start, Phil said, is by reaching out to Black people you already know, are friends or acquaintances with or have a familiarity with. Don’t reach out to someone you don’t already know.

“Start in your sphere of influence,” he said. “Just pay attention to who is around and how they’re doing and listen to them.”

It sounds simple enough, but Phil realizes this can be difficult to accomplish.

“Part of it is you have to think outside of yourself, and typically, we think about ourselves and those near and dear to us,” he said. “It takes effort to think and consider someone else.”

No. 3: Don’t Judge An Entire Group Based Off One Individual

“We have talked a lot in the group chats about life experiences and our different experiences within a race and within a gender,” Phil said. “We have to be careful not to judge a group based on one experience. That’s racism.”

Doing this fails to recognize and appreciate the diversity of thought, beliefs and opinions among all ethnicities. 

“That’s where the generalities and stereotypes come into play,” Phil said.

No. 4: Recognize The Successes and Failings Within Your Race

“I have asked all of them to think about and consider the contributions of their ethnic group to society,” he said. “Then, what are the failings, because we all have them.”

It’s important to recognize both in order to take personal responsibility, but also to recognize the role environment plays, Phil said.

“Let’s own and celebrate our contributions, but also own and realize failures within ourselves and, then, cultivate sympathy between groups,” he said. “The failings will be different, but each of us have them so it should mediate how we approach one another.”

No. 5: We Cannot Do It All Alone

We aren’t meant or designed to do everything, Phil said.

“We have different experiences and occupations, which means there are various things we can do as individuals and groups to affect our communities,” he said. “Multiple people do multiple things to advance reconciliation and justice between people. That can be socially, economically, politically, religiously, all of it.”

No. 6: Change Must Be Sustainable

I first reached out to Phil a few years ago in the aftermath of Charlottesville. He told me then that he’s asked many times for talks like the one I reached out to have when a racial incident or social injustice takes place. But, things always calm down, the outrage fades and nothing seems to change.

I asked him if sometimes it feels like he’s having the same conversations over and over again or if he thinks things are moving forward.

Yes, he responded.

“In some areas, I feel this is moving forward, but other areas, it’s the same thing over and over,” he said. “Five years ago, I did this stuff, but dealt more with the Confederate flag and all that, and what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore. The solution is the same as now.”

So what is it? 

“If we want to improve relationships on a societal level, we have to move outside our bubble, and that’s economically, politically, socially and so on,” he said. “Get to know someone who looks, votes, feels and lives differently than you do. Educate yourself and sit down at the table.”

There have been tangible wins along the way, though.

“Some people took part in these talks five years ago and did again this summer and they told me they learned a lot then, and learned more now,” he said. “That makes me happy.”

He’s also learned a lot, personally.

“There are certain things I’ve learned that I wish I knew and believed five years ago,” he said. “But I also learn from them. They share their thoughts, I’ll go back and meditate on it, think about it, read about it and see how it can improve what I’m saying and how I can help.”

Moving beyond this summer and this moment, change has to be sustainable if we’re going to see long-term growth and healing in our society, Phil said.

“If we’re up in arms about this now and two weeks later a shiny object comes and we move on to the next thing to be outraged over, we will be back here, again,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the real issues at the forefront. Let’s sit down and talk about this and not be combative.”

Back To Black: The T-Mike Story

You know those almost mythical figures from your school? That was T-Mike in my grade. With a nickname like T-Mike, it’s hard not to be legendary, right? He was one those kids who just about everyone knew and liked.

He was also one of those kids who broke through the racial barriers. Conway was — and still is — a diverse school, but just like in everyday life, we knowingly and unknowingly divided ourselves at lunch and in the gathering spots before and after school. But T-Mike was accepted everywhere, whether he was with his fellow Black classmates or his white counterparts. 

He was invited to the white parties and to white friends’ houses. His status and prominence got him a pass from time to time in altercations or situations that his other Black friends didn’t enjoy. 

As T-Mike puts it, he was known as the token Black kid. One of the good ones.

“It hurts you because you can see it hurts your friends,” T-Mike said. “Sometimes, they resent you. You don’t want to be the guy your Black friends call a sellout. It can happen quickly.”

Things have been different for Thomas Michael Askew II since high school. The world no longer sees him as the token Black kid. He’s a full-grown, Black man with all the baggage that can carry with it in today’s America.

“You don’t look like a Thomas,” is something he hears often during job interviews.

“You’re taught to chuckle it off and move past it, but even that small statement is racist in itself,” T-Mike said.

There are times he’s reminded of how he used to be viewed, but it only goes further in showing the normalcy of life as a Black male in the United States.

“Oh, That’s T-Mike”

A year or two after high school, T-Mike and two former classmates — with less-than-stellar records, he says — were coming home from a club in Little Rock around 1 or 2 a.m. When the trio exited I-40 onto Oak Street, a Conway officer pulled them over.

“We had done nothing that night,” T-Mike said. “We had nothing in the car — no guns, no drugs — nothing. We weren’t speeding, we didn’t have a taillight out. We weren’t even drunk.”

The reason for the stop? A silver, Pontiac had allegedly been involved in a recent break-in. The trio were driving in T-Mike’s gold, Pontiac Sunfire coup.

“It was dark outside, but it was clear this wasn’t a silver car,” T-Mike said. 

The three men were told to get out of the car and wait on the curb. Another patrol officer arrived on the scene and recognized one of his son’s former football teammates immediately.

“Oh, that’s T-Mike,” another officer says after arriving on-scene. “He’s good. Let him go.”

T-Mike was asked to leave while his two friends were held in police custody.

“My friends didn’t have the best records but they didn’t have any warrants or anything at the time,” T-Mike said.

“That Could Have Been Me”

Whether it’s Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd or another unarmed Black man killed by police in recent years, one thought is constant in Mike’s head.

“That could have been me,” he says.

Of all the recent killings, Philando Castile’s has weighed heaviest on his mind because of the effect it had on his daughter. 

“She asked me, ‘Daddy, why are they killing people because we’re Black?’”

Now, she waits up for Mike until he gets home every night. Mike owns an entertainment company which brings a lot of late nights and not getting home until 3 or 4 a.m., but there is his daughter, always waiting up to make sure Daddy makes it back.

Being a Black Father

Mike and I both have two kids, a girl and a boy each. My daughter is 5; Mike’s is 7.

Over this tumultuous summer, my wife and I have made a conscious effort to talk more about diversity with our daughter — our son is only 2 years old — but it’s a subject we can wade into slowly. We have the luxury of shielding certain details from her. That’s not something Mike can do.

“We have to teach our kids at a young age what is going on,” Mike said.

“I always reiterate to her that every white person is not bad. Every cop is not bad,” he said, a point he makes especially clear since his daughter’s mother is a police officer. “Not everybody is racist, but there are people out there who are.”

His 4-year-old son adds another element of worry to Mike’s mind.

“It’s hard for black women, but it’s hard for black men as well,” he said. “We get labeled a lot quicker when it comes to the judicial system and things of that nature. It makes it scary raising a son. When does he go from being a cute child to a threat?”

In the last few months, I’ve listened to many podcast episodes dealing with race, in an effort to learn about the experiences of those who don’t look like me. One of the most enlightening, infuriating and uncomfortable moments for me came while listening to Bakari Sellers recall “The Talk” he had with his pre-teen daughter about riding her bike around the neighborhood.

Always remain calm and respectful if an adult or an officer approaches you. Be kind and courteous. Always. Even if they get rude or hostile, you stay calm and respectful. Do not escalate the situation.

The advice is harmless enough, but it still made me physically uncomfortable. It occurred to me, Black people are forced to give up normal, human emotions and normal reactions to certain situations just to survive. 

Mike’s daughter typically rides her bike while he walks their neighborhood, and being a typical kid, she likes to ride ahead of her dad and go fast. Mike won’t let her get too far. If he can’t see her well or feels he can’t reach her quick, he has her come back, fearful of what could happen just out of his reach.

I have fears concerning my daughter. Will she make friends at school? Will someone make fun of her? Is she happy? None of these are trivial fears for a parent, but none of them include — If I let my daughter go on a bike ride, will she come back home?

Of course, I want my daughter to always be kind and respectful, but in certain situations, I also want her to stand up for herself. As a father, I couldn’t imagine being forced to live with a constant fear of what could happen to my son or daughter just because they’re Black.

“It’s tough to sit down and tell your kid not to be them, not to feel typical reactions and emotions, telling them they can’t react — even if they are not in the wrong and being blamed — you can’t get upset, you have to keep your composure,” Mike said. 

Back to Black

In the aftermath of George Floyd, the City of Conway held a community walk where residents walked the streets of downtown before they gathered to hear from a host of speakers. It was a good first step and a nice moment for Conway to show unity, Mike said. 

But he wanted to see more, including more thoughts, opinions and voices of Black residents and leaders in the city. Instead, the majority of the speakers were white and many issues he felt crucial to change and understanding went unaddressed, Mike said.

“I felt that was the time to address a lot of things,” he said. “The problem is people don’t like to be uncomfortable, but the thing is, we’re always uncomfortable. I think, if you’re there, you want to know. You’re there for a reason, so let’s talk. Let’s put it on the table and inform you about what really happens in our community.”

It drove Mike to start his own series of rallies and Back to Black was soon born.

“I texted a friend who is always creative and she immediately texted that name back,” he said. “It represents what we wanted to communicate, back to Black excellence, back to Black peace, Black power, Black love, all of it.”

Mike held his first meeting over the summer and plans are underway for more in the future. At the first rally, he shared some of his experiences as a Black man in Conway.

“Get Out and Walk the Street”

When Mike visits his friends and family in areas like Willow, Ash and Davis Streets, or over on First and Second avenues, he notices a particular way police like to patrol the area. It’s noticeably different than the west Conway neighborhood he lives in where officers drive through and wave to residents as they pass.

“They ride through at a creep, almost looking and expecting to see trouble,” he said of east Conway police patrols. “I don’t think they realize sometimes these are normal people with kids who run around and play in the neighborhood.”

Mike said he’s been present when a large group of Black men and women are congregated outside and police stop and check everyone’s IDs.

“I know officers are intimidated by looks, I get it,” he said. “You want to make it home, but the only way to make this relationship better is getting out and talking. People throw stones at Officer Norman, but that’s how he became who he is because he wasn’t scared to get out and patrol and get to know the people. The community loves him.”

While not every officer will go viral for their efforts, they will make a difference where they live and work, Mike said. But until something changes, we’ll continue to see issues between the Black community and police departments.

It’s going to take action, Mike said.

“Get out and walk the street, they ain’t going to bite you,” Mike said. “Talk to the kids, who grow up learning to be scared of the police.”

The Women of Blackbelt Voices

Black Belt was a term coined in the late 19th century to describe the fertile lands of the South worked by slaves. In present day, it has been used to represent the crescent-shaped area stretching south from Virginia through the Carolinas into Georgia and Florida, and west into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas where African Americans make up the majority of county residents. 

Three Black, Arkansas women use it to call attention to the overlooked, underappreciated stories of the Black experience and rich culture in the antebellum South.

From Juneteenth to health care disparities and interior design, to natural hair and the history of racism, rioting and Jim Crow, Adena White, Katrina Dupins and Kara Wilkins use Blackbelt Voices to “propagate the richness of Black Southern culture.”

In a little more than two years, Blackbelt Voices has grown from a small, blog-centric operation to include a podcast that has gained national notoriety in the aftermath of the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

The road to what it is today started in the weeks and months following the 2016 election. The results brought hopeless nights for White, but it sparked something that would bring about a medium to share the stories so many of us have failed to appreciate.

‘I Felt Like Black Southerners Got Left Out’

The days following the 2016 election were filled with protests throughout the country. It culminated with the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, when more than seven million people participated in organized marches and protests around the world. The primary march in Washington, D.C., drew more than 470,000 people. 

White admired those who were using their voices and speaking out. She even took part in the local Women’s March in Little Rock. That wasn’t where she found purpose, though.

“I wanted to do more,” she said.

From blogs and popular culture that posited the southern experience to post-election analysis of the region, it seemed like Black people were being shut out and ignored.

“I felt Black southerners were getting left out,” White said. “The blog became the best way to tell those stories.”

So, Blackbelt Voices started in May 2018. Posts would follow for the next year and a half before the first podcast episode was released in September 2019. With White and Wilkins as hosts and Dupins as producer, the trio hit its stride highlighting the census, HIV testing and Heirs property law along with the history of racism and discrimination and other topics central to the Black experience. 

Accolades and badges of honor, like being included in Apple Podcasts’ New & Noteworthy section, and thousands of episode downloads soon followed. Through its first season of 10 episodes, the podcast has had nearly 100,000 downloads.

On May 25, George Floyd was apprehended by Minneapolis police officers for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. It would end up being the last moments of his life as former officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes as two other officers held down his lower extremities and Chauvin’s partner, Tou Thao, kept distraught onlookers at bay. 

Video of the encounter shows Floyd’s pleas to his late mother for help and repeatedly to officers that he could not breathe. Those pleas and calls for help would go unanswered as he slowly lost consciousness and stopped breathing under the pressure of Chauvin’s knee.

His death sparked a national outrage with protests, riots and unrest across that continues across the country now. The social unrest has helped Blackbelt gain a larger audience, wanting to learn more about the Black experience in America. 

‘I Didn’t Watch It’

The visceral, raw emotions ignited by the sight of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd have let loose protests, riots and general unrest in our country.

The familiar refrain of “I can’t breathe,” uttered by numerous unarmed, Black men in police custody, paired with the sadistic delight on Chauvin’s face as he brought Floyd’s life to an end brought our nation’s discussion of police brutality and race relations from a persistent undertone to an unrelenting fever pitch.

“I didn’t watch it,” White said. “I’ve stopped watching them. I don’t want to normalize it.”

Wilkins said she’s learned to scroll fast when she sees stories like Floyd’s on her social media feeds.

“The last video I watched or paid attention to was Tamir Rice,” she said. “I have a little brother who was two years older and plays just like Tamir played. To see an officer pull up and shoot a child without asking questions, finding out what’s going on, or anything, that was enough for me. I was done at that point.”

She was aware of the Floyd case, but had paid more attention to the death of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by plainclothes Louisville police officers March 13 executing a search warrant on her home.

Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were asleep in their home when police kicked in their door. Unaware the men who entered their home were police, Walker grabbed his gun and opened fire in self-defense. Police officers returned fire, killing Taylor in the process.

Subsequent reporting has revealed police were searching for another person who did not live at the home and was already in police custody. The Courier-Journal in Louisville has reported Taylor received no medical attention from officers for more than 20 minutes.

“Her case hit us hard,” Wilkins said. “Police kicked down the door and shot her and it’s because her boyfriend was protecting himself.”

As I listened to them expound on their responses to the latest episodes of racism and injustice in our society, it became obvious to me as to why they wouldn’t want to watch video of the encounters. 

I have watched nearly all of the killings captured on video that have sparked national outrage in the past decade from Philando Castille to Walter Scott Jr. to Eric Garner to Laquan McDonald to Alton Sterling. I watched each with disgust, anger and guilt. But what differed from my experiences to those of my interviewees was I had never been forced to personalize those deaths. 

None of the victims looked like me or my family. Sure, I was outraged, but none of them brought fear or mental anguish about the future well-being of myself or those closest to me. The same could not be said for the women of Blackbelt Voices. 

Those deaths were their brothers, their sons, their sisters, their daughters, their nieces, their nephews, their significant others. Those deaths were them.

While each moment mentioned and others not have impacted their lives, none has more so than Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

‘(Charleston) Sparked Something in Me’

Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street, a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the night of June 17, 2015, ostensibly to take part in a Bible study.

Roof was welcomed with open arms by the church and took part in an hour-long discussion. Near the end of the gathering, the group joined in a circle and clasped hands to pray. That was when Roof decided to shoot and kill nine patrons. 

Survivors said he lamented that African Americans were taking over the country. One survivor testified that Roof said, “I’m going to leave you here to tell the story.” In his confession to federal investigators, Roof identified himself as a white supremacist and said he killed the worshippers to start a race war.

“It felt like 9/11 as far as being earth-shattering and a huge deal,” White said. “I went to work the next day and was distraught. Everything was business as usual, which made me mad. It showed me we were living in two different worlds.”

White remembers one cable news report that called the shooting an attack on Christianity, instead of an act of racism and white supremacy, furthering her anger.

“I had a lot of anger,” she said. “Anger at the situation, anger at the response, anger at the lack of response.”

Dupins, who is White’s sister, said she remembers crying on and off all day in her office. 

“Nine people were shot in a church and you couldn’t say anything until two weeks later and all you could talk about was the Confederate flag,” she said. “That sparked something in me.”

During our conversation, each of them spoke about how being Black and a woman comes with a steady stream of keeping up appearances and modifications and appeasements for those around you. There’s a story White shares to illustrate how tiring and all-consuming it is to be Black in the South and America. 

There are two fish swimming in the sea. One fish swims up to the other and asks how the water is. The other fish puzzlingly asks, “What is water?”

“We think about race all the time,” she said. “Depending on how you grew up, you’re always adjusting yourself. You learn how to adjust, but it’s hard to separate myself from it. That’s just the water.”

One of the places they didn’t have to make those modifications and appeasements and adjustments was church. It was one of the places they could go and be unapologetically Black. With several pulls of the trigger, Roof had taken away that place of refuge and the sense of security it brought.

“It took away all of the ‘It couldn’t have been me because’ arguments,” said Dupins.

“The scariest thing wasn’t the shooting,” Wilkins said. “It was that he sat there and worshipped with them and still made the decision to shoot them and to talk to some of them while he shot them.

“Your hatred is so strong, you can sit and worship with them — which I think is one of the most transformative things we can do together — they let him in and accepted him and he still made the decision to murder them,” she said. “That was jarring to me.”

‘I Hope It Transforms the South’

The first season of the Blackbelt Voices podcast wrapped with the story of Marvin Leonard Williams who died in police custody in 1960 and the reopening of his case with the help of his younger brother, Ronnie, a quarter-century later.

As with many of the episodes during production, Dupins played an early cut for White to review, but this one left her overcome with emotion.

“I sat in the car and cried,” White said. “I feel like it’s a huge responsibility. [Ronnie] allowed us to tell the story and it felt surreal to be a part of something he hasn’t talked about publicly since the trial was reopened.”

She had the same feeling reviewing bonus episodes about rioting and the Black Lives Matter movement released in the aftermath of George Floyd.

“It feels heavy,” White said. “We are the ones getting this out there. It felt overwhelming to think that it’s us. It’s a good thing, but it’s hard to believe.”

As attention turns to season two of the podcast, the women of Blackbelt Voices are focused on telling the stories of everyday Black Americans along with topical issues in Black history and culture.

“I want to show Black people aren’t a monolith,” White said. “We do all types of things.”

Looking forward, White wants to keep telling those stories and continue to grow Blackbelt Voices with a long-term goal of working with organizations across the South on their public relations and communication.

“The big picture is I hope it transforms the South and helps turn the South blue,” she said. “We can’t do it by ourselves, but we want to be a part of that.”

Find out more about Blackbelt Voices at Subscribe to the Blackbelt Voices podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts or Castbox. Follow Blackbelt Voices on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.