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 that resulted 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.
These events spawned protests at home and abroad, but these men worry that little has changed. They say the still feel they are living on edge.
John McCullough experienced plenty of firsthand racism, growing up in the 60s in West Charlotte.
He’s been senior pastor of Friendship Christian Church in Gastonia for more than 30 years and says he’s doing everything he can to ensure a better future for his children and grandchildren.
“I think there is enough emphasis on the injustices done to the Black man that there must be some repentance,” McCullough said. “It puts us as Black men to have to always be at a place of, I guess, defense. Sort of back down, look innocent.”
The men said so many Black people at an early age feel like the world is stacked against them and racial disparities create barriers for Black youth, which can leave deep impressions that last a lifetime.
“I have come through that all these years of being followed, being watched, and so you try to figure out how to look as innocent as possible, which shouldn’t have to be our burden,” he said. “It shouldn’t have to be an effort like that. I’m sure for younger guys it’s even worse now.”
From colorism, to microaggressions, to having to use their “white voices” — the similarities of the men’s experiences belie their 47-year age range.
For McCullough, an experience in elementary school in the late 1960s was a poignant moment in his childhood.
“They started a Queen City Boys’ Choir and it was made up of Black and white kids in elementary, and I auditioned and became a part. And I noticed that when we would go out and perform, we would be together on stage, but at each Boys’ Choir, there would always be the Black guys on this side and the white guys on this side,” he said. “That was probably my first time really being aware of that type of separation. It became confusing as to why we could be on stage together, but we practiced and socialized separately the other times.”
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.
Chef Chayil Johnson told the story of losing a friend over racial differences at age 8: “His grandfather brought him over to my house to tell me that he couldn’t play with me anymore.”
“I felt like at no point I was allowed to slip up,” recalls therapist Rwenshaun Miller, who says 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 will also 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.
© 2021 Cox Media Group