This is the first installment in a three-day series. It aired on Monday, June 22, 2020.
Across the country, African-Americans have protested with white allies in united outrage over George Floyd dying in police custody in Minneapolis last month. In Kalamazoo, the vast majority of participants at the larger protests have been white. But as people of color start to plan next steps, some wonder: Will allies continue to work to end systemic racism once the big demonstrations stop?
This is the story of JoVaughan Head, of Kalamazoo, one of three African-Americans we interviewed about their hopes for America after the protests. The 33-year-old software manager was raised on the city's mostly Black northern end. He says he’s been an activist and community organizer dating back to his adolescence.
“I was raised by my mother. She raised four boys by herself on the North Side of Kalamazoo, and she’d always made it very clear that we are bigger than who we are. And, that we represent a larger group of folks and those that can, should do. So, I have been working with working with local organizations before I was 12 years old.”
He remembers being seated on the couch scrolling through social media when the nearly-nine-minute long video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, popped up in his feed.
“Immediately I wanted justice,” Head recalls.
Still reeling days later from that Memorial Day violent imagery he'd viewed, Head stepped out of his downtown Kalamazoo apartment to clear his mind. That’s when he stumbled across a protest against police brutality in Bronson Park.
Without hesitation, he joined the white demonstrators, chanted with them and followed them to the nearby courthouse to continue protesting. There’d be other marches downtown that same day. Head participated in those, too.
But after six days of protesting, he became frustrated. "I had grown disenchanted by the protests at that point," he says. "I felt as though the folks that I saw were engaging in ‘trauma tourism.’ And it was a cathartic experience for white folks that didn’t quite have an output, that had angst, that felt guilt but didn’t know what to do with it. And so, it was sort of this self-congratulatory thing of, 'Let’s go to the park and feel like we’re doing something.'
"And I equate it to trauma tourism because, like a tourist, you can visit that narrative, and then leave. And you get to exit and come and go as you please, while the natives, while the folks that actually live there, have to experience that day in and day out. So, I became disheartened by the lack of action with the protests.”
'Enact anti-racist ideas'
It was a case of deja vu for him. He points to what happened when Michael Brown, an unarmed Ferguson, Mo., teenager, was shot by police in 2014, noting nationwide protests occurred but "nothing really from a policy standpoint...when it comes to our police forces."
Click on the audio to hear what Head did next to "break this cycle of protest, anger, then complacency or apathy."
His "big ask" of white allies?
“If they enact anti-racist ideas and agendas into their own life, that’s a success," he says. He also requests they consider being an advocate for African-Americans in their everyday lives.
"Teach your children about what anti-racism means. Teach your children that the only way to get equality is through equity.”
The series is airing 7:50 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. Monday, June 22 through Wednesday, June 24 during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WMUK 102.1 FM, the National Public Radio Station based at Western Michigan University.