Karen Boykin-Towns

“This moment is a moment of hurt. This moment is a moment of pain,” said April Ryan, CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, in a conversation with Karen Boykin-Towns, vice chairman of NAACP national board. The discussion took place Thursday afternoon on Instagram Live, in an hour-long program titled “Voices of Change,” sponsored by Lafayette 148.

The topics ranged from the power of protest and ways people can listen and have conversations with their black colleagues and friends, to what next steps companies can be taking, the importance of voting, and how people can help in ways, large and small.

The Lafayette 148 team has pledged to donate to the NAACP, which Deirdre Quinn, cofounder and chief executive officer, has committed to matching.

April Ryan 

Ryan asked Boykin-Towns how we got to this moment.

“We’ve been having some amazing COVID[-19] conversations for the last eight, nine weeks. While we all saw what happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis, it didn’t just start there,” said Boykin-Towns, citing people such as Eleanor Bumpurs, who was shot by an officer in The New York Police Department in 1984. “I think what we see is just a community that has said, ‘enough is enough.’ A community that is, as every indicator, in trouble and in a situation of hopelessness and despair. We still have COVID-19 that we’re dealing with,” said Boykin-Towns. “If we just think it was a matter of few days we saw Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia get shot….Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, then we saw Amy Cooper in New York City, and then we saw what happened in Minneapolis. On top of everything else that we’ve been experiencing, and the pain and the rage that we have held in…,” she said.

Ryan emphasized that once people start taking to one another, that’s when change happens. She spoke about lynchings and the vigilante situation with Trayvon Martin.

“For those who don’t live it and breathe it and experience it on a daily basis, it’s a thought that it’s all what just happened. What we need are different platforms, such as this, where different people can talk amongst each other, because we know we are a highly segregated community. We generally live amongst people like ourselves, we go to churches that are generally like ourselves, and our kids are generally in schools with people like ourselves. When white people are in talking in the circles that you and I might not always be in, when you hear that comment that is off-color, that is an opportunity to make a difference,” said Boykin-Towers.

Ryan recalled an incident in her mostly white community on Memorial Day weekend, where her two black daughters were riding their bicycles, and her youngest daughter overheard one woman say the “n” word. She said she got in her car later that day and went driving around the neighborhood looking for that woman. “It was a blessing that I didn’t find her because she knew where I lived,” she said.

“Race is something that hits every level of society. I want to ask an important question to those who are not African-American. When I go out and speak, this is a question I ask…,”Do you want to be black? No one raises their hands, why? It’s known, but it’s not spoken,” said Ryan.

Boykin-Towns said someone a few days ago said, “They want our culture, but they don’t want us.”

People like to go to got out in Harlem and see the latest Jay Z show, said Ryan. “You want our flavor, but you don’t want our experience. You want our cornrows, you want our hips, our butts, our lips…,” said Ryan.

“There are certain clothing designers we can not go to because they’re not meant for us,” added Ryan.

Boykin-Towns said problems arise when there is silence and you’re complicit. “It’s important to act. I’m exhausted. If you ask any person of color in any company right now….we are tired because besides dealing with everything we’re dealing with, we’re also dealing with the need to explain, because we’re having our friends say, ‘teach me,’ ‘help me.’ There’s a lot that we can do, ultimately when you want to learn for yourself and read the books, and join the organizations and when you want to engage so you can learn and be better because we need you. It’s not going to end unless we lock arms together and say enough is enough,” said Boykin-Towns.

In discussing how one starts the conversations, Ryan said, “Invite people, have a dinner conversation, do a Zoom. I’m not trying to be harsh. It’s the simplest stuff. There are people who have their back against the wall already about matters of race…how do you create safe space for people to have a civil dialogue?” asked Ryan.

Boykin-Towns, who said it’s important to let black colleagues have their voice, said that for those who are listening this afternoon, this is a first step in asking questions and saying they want to be involved. “You don’t have to be a ceo of a company, you don’t have to be a leader in a civil rights organization, you don’t have to be a reporter. All of us from where we sit have a role to play,” said Boykin-Towns. “It might be something as simple as reposting something that’s positive on your social platform, or checking that uncle or aunt or father who might say something inappropriate…it might be where you begin to talk to your children… It’s the small things, it’s the little things. Not everyone has to be on the frontlines. We’re not all built to do that. You don’t have to be out there protesting.”

Ryan said they don’t condone the looting and riots. “We’re talking about those peaceful protesters out there kneeling or chanting…,” Boykin-Towns added that a lot of people doing the looting “are not peaceful protestors. They’re agitators and disruptors.”

Boykin-Towns said that a lot of companies are making contributions which are really important. “But it’s even deeper if you’re able to bring in your customer base, your employees. The money is good and the money is important, but it’s about bringing forth understanding, and that is what this is about.”

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