As part of WSOC-TV’s ongoing “Talking About Race” initiative, reporter Ken Lemon sat down with five Black men from different walks of life. The conversation revealed eye-opening perspectives on bridging the racial gaps that divide us.
The men are keenly aware of the headline-grabbing stories of Black people, mostly men, having been reported to the police for doing everyday things, and even more troubling, stories of Black men who lost their lives to police violence.
Such events spawned protests at home and abroad in 2020, but these men worry that little has changed. They said that they still feel as if they are living on edge.
Chayil Johnson grew up in New Orleans and wanted to be a chef since he was a kid, but Black role models were hard to find.
Now the chef at Charlotte’s Community Matters Cafe, he takes his leadership role seriously and wants to make it easier for other young Black men to follow in his footsteps.
The men said so many Black people at an early age feel as if the world’s cards are stacked against them, and racial disparities create barriers for Black youth that can leave deep impressions that last a lifetime.
“It’s a systematic and learned behavior—a preconceived thought to think like that, to think of us as a threat,” Johnson said. “To think of us as illiterate. To think of us as uneducated. To think of us as violent.”
From colorism, to microaggressions, to having to use their “white voices”—the similarities of the men’s experiences belie the 47 years that separate the youngest from the oldest.
Before Johnson was even 10 years-old, being Black was the reason he lost his best friend.
“One of my best friends growing up was white, my neighbor. I was like 8 or 9 years-old. I remember one day his dad saw us outside playing and the next day his grandfather brought him over to my house to come and tell me that he couldn’t play with me anymore,” Johnson said. “I didn’t really think about it like race until my parents sat me down and explained it to me. I remember my parents being really mad and I started to like have a little bit more understanding.”
A high school student, looking forward to college.
A trained chef.
A therapist and mental health advocate.
A senior VP for a tech firm.
And a bishop.
“I’m very cautious of when I walk in that room and I’m the only Black person. It changes,” explained Leaton Harris, the tech company VP.
“It puts us, as Black men, to have to always be at a place of defense,” said John McCullough, the bishop and community leader.
“I felt like at no point I was allowed to slip up,” recalls therapist Rwenshaun Miller, who said racism played a part in his three suicide attempts when he was younger.
Seventeen-year-old Raymon Curry, whose participation in last year’s protests included an exchange that went viral, believes he and his peers have a great responsibility.
“I’m like, they rely on you. You are the leader of your generation. So what can you do to better the world that we live in?”
“Talking About Race: A Conversation with Five Black Men” airs Monday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. on WSOC-TV Channel 9 and WAXN TV64. It also will stream live on wsoctv.com and on the WSOC-TV news app. Chat live with reporter Ken Lemon during the program on the WSOC-TV Facebook page or tweet your comments using the hashtag #TalkingAboutRace.