HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Missing the classroom and learning from the streets.
Hampton Roads resident “J-Z” Jonathan Zur has a gift of gab, but you won’t hear him on any rap albums.
His talents are in getting other people to talk — diverse groups — to discover what we have in common.
At the request of WAVY News Anchor Don Roberts, Zur, president and CEO of the pro-diversity agency Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, pulled together a group of teens for a Zoom session on racism, police brutality, George Floyd, and Confederate generals on pedestals.
About eight students joined 10 On Your Side with a variety of experiences to share.
First, all were very aware of protesting crowds taking to the streets here in Hampton Roads and all over the country. From the Portsmouth demonstrators destroying part of a downtown Confederate monument, to similar groups threatening to do the same to Norfolk’s “Johnny Reb” atop an 80-foot pedestal, and the hundreds of marchers walking along the Virginia Beach Oceanfront with Black Lives Matter supporters.
Woodside High School rising senior Jordan Moody apparently took timely breaks from his online studies to check on the happenings.
“I read an article that a protest has happened in every single city or county in the United States. That has not happened before in my knowledge. And so, it’s things like that are going to spiral. People that would never ever protest are now protesting because enough is enough,” he said.
Moody plans to work for “change” from the inside, so to speak. He says he’ll be the next student representative on the Newport News School Board, starting in the fall semester.
Rising Hampton High School senior Alexis Alston seemed surprised by the passion of local protesters.
“So, what I’m seeing here, especially in Hampton Roads, it’s really shocking,” Alston said.
And Nehemiah “Neo” Carter of Heritage High momentarily feared the worst.
“At first I felt a little worried that things would get out of hand until I started to see some things starting to change. And that’s when I kinda got empowered to go out and protest myself and be a part of history,” he said.
He says he helped block an interstate near a tunnel, recently.
Asia Shell, also of Heritage HS, has noticed the power of cell phone video to grab people’s attention.
“When racism is being filmed and put on the forefront for more and more, for hundreds of thousands of people, to see, more people become angry,” she said.
And, she counts herself among them, hoping to turn that anger into action.
Former Heritage High student De’Vohn Farrar, now a rising sophomore at Virginia State University, says he’s had his eye on Gov. Ralph Northam since an accuser claimed Northam dressed in either racially offensive “blackface” or in a Ku Klux Klan robe and posed for a picture while in medical school during a costume party. Farrar seemed to take Northam’s apology a little more seriously after hearing the pediatric neurologist speak at a demonstration around the Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond.
“He made a very good point — that it (the statue) was wrong in the past and it was wrong now,” he said.
Zur knows nearly all the teens in this Zoom session. He is encouraged that all are taking more than just a passing interest in the protests.
“One of the things that has been striking for me — and I’ve seen a lot of folks talk about — is it’s been young people that have been leading the charge in pushing for change,” Zur said.
They all say, yes, we need to take a hard look at instances of police killings of black men, and brutality, and do whatever it takes to prevent future instances. But, one of Heritage High’s newest graduates, Karmen “Frenchie” Fry, says let’s not be so quick to paint all police with a broad brush.
“I know personally, I’ve been shot at, and all this stuff happened to me in my neighborhood where the cops have helped me and protected me and saved my life. It’s weird for me to have an outlook on all this … even though I do think we are making a change and standing up against racism,” Karmen said.
A future doctor, Alston says she’s working to make a change through her newly-formed organization.
“For myself, I’ve created my own nonprofit organization called ‘Future White Coats for Black Lives.’ And it’s for aspiring people who want to be in the healthcare community but also make a change for black lives,” she said.
Meantime, if you need help in “making a change” in understanding diversity in your group or workplace, contact Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.
Zur’s group does diversity workshops for students, employees, as well as management training. Reach them at https://inclusiveva.org.
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