GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — For the last year, conversations about race and racism have played out in cities, towns, social groups, workplaces, places of worship and more. Those conversations were sparked by the death of George Floyd.
Weeks after the man who killed Floyd was convicted, one Triad organization is working to keep the conversation going and to get more people engaged.
“I say sometimes some people are waking up right now,” said Michael Robinson. “Some people have been up since 5 a.m. They’ve had their coffee, their bagels, and they’re like… where y’all been?”
Robinson is the program director for the Greensboro location of the National Coalition for Community and Justice, better-known as NCCJ. The organization has been coordinating community conversations about race, racism, and racial justice in the Piedmont since 1937. The most recent discussions: “How do we talk about racism and community policing?”
“That’s the $1 million question. Because we ain’t been talking about racism! I was thinking the other day about that very thing when people talk about race, it is a visceral reaction to have because these are topics that we do not — we don’t have these conversations at all, really, in our society.”
NCCJ started the 8:46 Series. 8:46 represents how long Derek Chauvin was shown kneeling on George Floyd’s neck in the original video last May. Part of that was the “Open Minds Respectful Voices” program to help people understand their own tendencies.
“The key to being able to have these conversations, and this may not be popular, but is to listen, to set aside judgment and to ask yourself a couple of questions. What do I want for myself? What do I want for other people? And how would I act if I wanted that to come to fruition?”
“I think NCCJ helped me start to ask why is it there are so many of us on the sidelines? Why are we just looking from a distance saying change would be great and not doing anything?” Melanie Woodard explained to FOX8.
Woodard heard Robinson’s presentation on shifting lenses, and it pushed her to shift her own.
“It occurred to me these are the conversations I need to have and so many groups I belong to we need to have because the truth is we don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to racism and inequity.”
She’s experienced resistance.
“I think that can happen really in almost any circle. It can be your own family. It might be a social setting. It could be your faith community.”
Still, she believes the reward outweighs the risk. She was moved when Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan and police chief Brian James laid out the city’s underlying issues: poverty, inequality in education, health care, and employment.
“It’s one thing to think about policing from a standpoint of what can we do better,” she said. “But that alone won’t answer the questions. If we want a really vibrant healthy community, we have to look at all those issues. Not one single one of us has the answers. We have to be a community to figure out what to do.”
Robinson warns against diving in head first.
“People really want action right now and I’m moreso of the mindset that if you don’t know nothing, you don’t need to be doing a whole lot,” he said. “One conversation in the parking lot of Target with somebody who is diametrically opposed to you is not going to do it.”
“What could’ve been a year of not willing to engage people in these conversations has turned into really a powerful year because the conversations haven’t stopped,” Woodard added.
NCCJ is not new to leading these conversations. They’ve been doing this for years with people of all ages. Coming up next week, we’ll hear from th8e man in charge about how he’s seen the conversation about race and racism expand and progress over the last year, and why he’s hopeful that we’re starting to turn a corner.