Voices from the streets: Grassroots local leaders react following death of George Floyd

Newport News

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — WAVY News Anchor Don Roberts asked several people their opinions about current events — “to take the temperature of the room,” in a manner of speaking.

As demonstrations against police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd continue here in the United States and around the world, what will be the impact? Will the calls to end systemic racism result in any substantive changes in the beliefs and practices of too many — the beliefs that white people are superior to those who are black?

Will we ever, in the words of police beating victim Rodney King, just simply “get along”?

“As an American, we’re taught that everybody is created equal,” said Terri Simon, a local faith leader. “And I can’t listen to the stories of my black brothers and sisters when I know that’s not the reality.”

Simon recently retired after a long career as a religious educator and administrator in the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.

She and her husband, George, have raised two children they adopted from Korea.

“From the time they were little, whenever we’d go out with them, people would kinda point that ‘Oh, these kids are different, this is a different kind of family, and those kinds of things,'” she said.

Her son was more sensitive to that. Simon says he experienced racism while in high school from his friends.

“He didn’t want his friends to know he had a white mother, because he was Asian. And that just hurt me,” she said.

Dr. Mamie Locke, a professor of political science at Hampton University, could write a textbook for the freshman class entering in the fall of 2021. But, as an active participant — and with a view from her seat in the Virginia Senate — Locke would probably be too busy. And, possibly, disheartened.

“What people are feeling did not start with Monday, Memorial Day,” Locke said, referring to the day George Floyd died after a Minneapolis Police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. “The African American community has had this foot place on our collective throats for 400 years.”

Playwrite and theatrical producer Terrance Afer Anderson, who recently retired from his “day job” with the health department, can recall numerous alarming encounters with police. In one, he thought he might die when an officer reached for his service revolver, while Anderson reached for his registration.

Another time was more pleasant.

“When I first moved back to Norfolk, (from Washington D.C) I was driving a car and I was stopped by police because I was driving a car that didn’t have a city sticker on it,” he said.

“They told me ‘Welcome to Norfolk, have a good day’ and they sent me on my way,” he said.

Anderson is “optimistically hopeful” that tensions between law enforcement and black Americans will ease, but he’d like to see changes in who is hired and how candidates are screened.

Nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and unpredictable leadership in Washington prompt Dr. Mario Mazzarella to implore voters to head to the polls in November.

Mazzarella, a retired history professor at Christopher Newport University, says it’s “up to us.”

“It is up to us, the American citizens, to seize back control of our own destiny, our own government to create the kind of country that we want and need for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren,” he said.

Cameron Bertrand, a youth advocate based in Newport News, is in Minneapolis as we speak.

“As a gunshot victim survivor, I remember how I was treated … when the police department arrived on the scene an automatically assumed that I was a gangbanger and criminal,” he said.

He says he’s connecting with local leaders there in Minneapolis while researching police-citizen conflict and resolutions,. He hopes to bring ideas back to his home in Newport News.

Jay Lang has his ear to the streets through the radio station he manages at Hampton University. Every day, he and his team of announcers share encouraging words, smooth jazz and gospel on HU’s 88.1 WHOV FM about current events,

“Right now I am inspired by the young people galvanizing and people from all nationalities and walks of life… galvanizing together to try and put an end to racism.”

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