GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — The early days of the group “White Voices Against Racism” started on Zoom. It was originally a small circle of a few people tackling the big, small and uncomfortable topics.
The group was started in 2020 by Mark Kirstner who — like so many — was horrified by the murder of George Floyd.
“I would, unfortunately, put myself in that group of ‘that was the tipping point.’ The images of the officer that had his foot on his neck and the facial expressions of the other officers were just too much to bear,” Kirstner said. “I’ve always had an interest in wanting to help our community in any number of different ways but that just drove me to reach out to some close friends and say hey what is it that we can do?”
Kirstner thought it was important to use his voice to support marginalized groups in his community.
“For me, it was about here’s a privileged white male speaking out against systemic racism. And the white voice in that maybe would resonate a little bit differently with individuals.”
While WVAR was started by a white man, it is not a group exclusively for white people. Kirstner knew that it would take different voices to really understand how to make a real impact, which is why he asked his friend, Chantale Wesley-Lamin to come on board.
“Obviously I’m not a white voice so when Mark asked me to be a part of the group, I was excited,” she said.
Wesley-Lamin is Black and has been friends with Mark for years.
“It was important for him as a white male who wasn’t necessarily as impacted as other groups were by some of the things that we saw in the media and some of the things that were prevalent at the time to say ‘look I might not always understand, it may not even be my particular experience, but I can come alongside you, I can listen, I can learn, I can advocate,'” she said. “I’m a voice that knows that it’s going to take a collective voice to bring about change for something as big and as ongoing as racism.”
Getting people talking was just one of the goals of the group.
“We wanted things to be experiential. We wanted things to be kind of lowkey, not in your face so to speak, fun,” Kirstner said.
Over the last two years, they’ve raised money and paid for groups of people of all races to go on a series of educational trips to historic sites and museums around Guilford County. The Magnolia House, the International Civil Rights Museum, and Guilford Woods were among some of the stops on what the group called the “Journey to Justice.”
“We got a trolley and we took 15 to 20 people around to these sites and that was extremely powerful,” Kirstner said.
Even though some of the urgency for racial justice has faded since 2020, their work is far from done. The group still meets to strategize ways to grow the group and teach and expose as many people as possible to ways of undoing racism, but also talk to each other to see how we all have more in common than we think.
“I think that some of the things that I’ve learned is that there is a common thread no matter who is telling their story,” Kirstner said.
“I think too often we say we want to do something, but we sit in the ‘oh well what am I going to do?’ or ‘I’m just one person, I can’t do it.’ So White Voices actually took a step and that step was in convening and dialoguing,” Wesley-Lamin said.
Currently, the group is working on raising money to sponsor more educational trips. Their next fundraising event is June 27th at City BBQ in Greensboro at the Lawndale crossing shopping center from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 20% of all proceeds will go to WVAR for education events and activities for the next two years.