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.

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.”