With the backdrop of George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent protests, and push for social change, Richie talks with DJ Hines, Khalif El-Amin, and Greg Marshall about race in America and the need for change.
On this episode, we’ll cover a lot of ground, talking about a wide range of important issues involving race in our city and beyond. Our guests touch on what needs to change in the Milwaukee business community (and the community at large), the moment they realized what race really is, speaking with their kids about race, and much more.
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We have a very important episode. I’ve thought all the COVID episodes were important and this may be the most important one that we have had. We had a great lineup and an open discussion on the events going on, how people can respond, how White people should be taking this, what it’s like to grow up Black in Milwaukee and America, how we come to the different views that we have on race and what’s happening, how long will this last for, and what can people do in our city to help.
I grew up in Madison in a White community. I went to a private grade school and high school. I went to Marquette for college. I was mostly around White people and lived with White privilege. I’ve had that my entire life. Luckily, I was taught at an early age to give back, treat people right, and be very welcoming to everyone, but I can’t relate to what minorities and Black people go through and what they have gone through their entire lives.
I put this episode out because I called DJ, who’s on this episode. He has become a good friend of mine over the years. I called him on when all this stuff was going on. There was what happened to George Floyd. We have never seen an uprising like this but this is not new at all. This has been happening forever, unfortunately. We have had stuff happening in our community. We had Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park in 2014. In 2016 in Sherman Park, we had riots for several days.
As a White guy living on the East side of Milwaukee, my life was completely unaffected by any of those. It happened right in our community. A lot of White people in Milwaukee feel the same way too. This came out and the response and uproar have been something that I’ve never seen before. You may have to go back to Rodney King in LA to see anything similar like that. That was ’89. I would have been one year old then. I don’t remember that at all but we haven’t seen anything like it.
Hopefully, this is a good thing that’s happening. The awareness is higher than ever. Hopefully, this will inspire people to make a change. I called DJ because I don’t know how to respond as a White guy. I’ve felt a level of guilt throughout my entire life growing up in a rich White family and knowing I’ve had it better than others for no reason or for just being born. It’s not fair. I’ve tried to do my part to be inclusive and help others regardless of race.
As a White person, I’ve come to realize and I hope others are realizing that not being part of the problem isn’t enough. We need to take action. I called DJ and I was like, “As a White guy, I don’t know how to respond to this.” I don’t want to post on social media, “I’m sorry for what’s going on. I’m with you. I support these protests,” and then leave it and forget about it. I’m lucky enough to have you reading this and to have built up this platform over the last years between myself and Milwaukee.
I would like to use this to do some good. We have done a good job of being inclusive on this show over the years. I want to use this as a platform to do good. I reached out to DJ and simply told him, “As a White guy, what can I do? How should I respond?” DJ was like, “What do you want this to accomplish? What do you want to accomplish with this?” I told him, “I want this to be able to make an impact. Is the best way to go about it to educate people so they’re more aware? Is it to take a stand?”
We agreed on educating people on what it’s like to be Black because a lot of change can start with empathy. Even though we can’t relate, we can be informed, have empathy, and do better ourselves. I thought about doing a similar format and having a bunch of guests on to tell stories but DJ and I decided that it would be good to have him, me, and Khalif El-Amin from Young Enterprising Society and The Blueprint. He’s involved in a lot of Black entrepreneurship minority startups here. His program helps teach STEAM to schools in the inner city.
He’s an assistant basketball coach at Nicolet High School. He’s a great guy that I’ve gotten to know a bit over the last few years and have become friends with. We have Greg Marshall who is a White guy. He’s a Sherman Park resident. He lives in a mostly Black neighborhood. He’s a super successful guy. He’s probably the best storyteller in Milwaukee. He’s the Chief Storyteller at CI Design. He’s the Host of The PegLeg Podcast. He’s very active in the community.
We thought it would be important to get DJ and Khalif’s perspectives as Black men who have overcome quite a bit and grew up as Black men in Milwaukee, Greg’s perspective as a White guy who’s very involved, and my perspective as well and have an open dialogue so you can learn. I hope you get something out of this episode. Please share this episode. It’s something that others should read at a time like this. We appreciate all of your support for the show. I feel lucky to be in a position to be able to put something like this out at a time like this and hopefully do my small part to make an impact. Thanks again for reading. We will dive in.
On May 25th, 2020 after officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 45 seconds, he passed away. Since then, protests and riots have been going on locally in Milwaukee as we have never seen and all over the world in support of Black Lives Matter. There has also been controversy over looting and outside groups coming in and disrupting peaceful protests. Milwaukee itself has a long history of racism. It has been consistently rated the most segregated city in America. We have had our incidents in recent times as well. There’s Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park and the Sherman Phoenix riots and shootings back in 2016.
We’ve got Greg Marshall, a partner at CI Design. He’s a Sherman Park resident and also the Host of The PegLeg Podcast. He’s very active in their community. We have Khalif El-Amin. I believe it’s his third time on the show. He’s the Founder of YES or Young Enterprising Society and The Blueprint, which incubates a lot of minority-owned startups in Milwaukee. He also teaches STEAM to schools and is an assistant coach at Nicolet on their high school basketball team. We have DJ Hines of Christian Faith Fellowship Church who was named in 2021 one of Wisconsin’s most influential Black leaders. His daughter also inspired an Oscar-winning documentary.
I love you. Thank you for joining me for this important conversation. I want to kick things off by getting the pulse on what is happening and why is this happening now, of all times. What happened to George Floyd, unfortunately, is nothing new in our country. We have had things happen like this on a local level, yet we have never seen anything of this magnitude as far as the protests, the outrage, and the media coverage. You would have to go back a long time.
We’re all aware of what’s happening and why it’s happening. People are angry, fed up, and upset. Everyone is finding different ways of expressing that anger and outlets to show that emotion. It’s coming in the form of protests, writing, and making posts on social media. When I say everyone, I mean Black, White, brown, and all races included but especially Black people because we’re the ones who have been dealing with the oppression for so long.
What we’re experiencing, not even nationally but globally, is a big outcry. Black people want to be heard and seen. We have high expectations and high hopes that as a result of our outcry, we will begin to see necessary changes so that our children don’t have to go through the same things we and our ancestors have gone through. That’s what we’re seeing. That’s what the world is experiencing.
When I think about what’s happening, there are so many layers that could be dissected. People are responding in different ways. It’s doing the hard work of dissecting the different layers. People are frustrated, angry, and tired. People are responding in different ways in the Black community and the White community. You have people in those communities interpreting the actions that are being done in different ways and responding in different ways.
It’s hard to clearly define all of it and communicate it because even in this situation when I’ve tried to communicate why things are going the way they are, sometimes people that are hearing that story want it to be very Black and White, “This or that is happening.” There are so many things going on. Good people who are never going to harm anybody and riot are tired of feeling like they’re being treated less than human. Some people feel like, “I can’t listen to you because there are people who look like you I saw on the news breaking a window.”
It’s not only the things that are physically happening but also the things that are happening in our minds that are trying to make sense of it. That’s getting all tangled up. One of the greatest efforts is going to be continuing to talk about this past the point of being tired of talking about it so that we can untangle that and have a deep understanding of all the layers of what’s moving. It’s hard to wrap language around all of it.
We talk about the effects of it but we never dive deep into what the real cause is. African-Americans have experienced generations of trauma. These are an effect of not being heard, not being equal, and not having the same privilege, rights, or opportunities as other races. What happened with George Floyd, for hundreds of African-Americans, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People have a right to be mad, upset, and frustrated because the system is broken.Everyone protests differently. It's just up to the world to understand what the actual cause is. Click To Tweet
It has been systematically disadvantaging African-Americans for a while. With the advancement of social media and technology, Will Smith said, “Racism hasn’t gotten worse. It’s getting filmed.” It’s those types of things. People are voicing their opinion. Everybody reacts to inaction differently. Some people protest peacefully. Some people want to march, loot, and destroy. It’s up to the world to understand what the actual cause is.
Can we go back to the root cause of the oppression that has happened for so long? Can you explain to the audience some things that they may not be aware of on what it’s like to be Black in America or Milwaukee? Before we’ve got on and I’ve gotten to know all of you over the last several years, you’ve told me stories. It’s hard to say they have shocked me because I know it’s happening but I was surprised by what has happened. Greg, you’re a White guy but you’re very ingrained in the Black community. You had a number of stories that you’ve witnessed from being with your friends.
Going back to when I was even nineteen years old, I remember walking into stores with friends and I would be the only White kid there. Inevitably, everyone else would get followed and I wouldn’t. I remember these vivid conversations. We would leave a store and I would turn to a friend and be like, “Does that bother you?” He’s like, “What are you talking about?” “The guy follows you but he doesn’t follow me.” He’s like, “You’re talking like that’s something that happened today. That’s every day. It’s a thing.”
He didn’t say this but it’s like a fish in the water. If you ask a fish how is the water, they’re like, “What are you talking about? That’s the water that we’re in.” I’m trying to dissect this thing that I observed but it’s a way of life. I observed that in multiple ways for years. One of the more profound experiences is a friend of mine who was a Director of IT at a college. He’s African-American. He gave a presentation about the semester. He always wore a nice suit. He’s a super professional guy and uber-talented.
After the presentation, one of the faculty members who was there interacting with him during the presentation walked past him on campus and said, “The garbage is full at my office. Do you want to come and empty that?” My friend chuckled because he knows you have to play it off and stay relaxed, kind, and calm. He says, “I’m the Director of IT.” The guy was like, “I thought you were the head of janitors or something.” This was within the last few years.
He told me that story and then kept going and adding on, “This happened.” I said, “I know people in media. I’m a good storyteller myself. I produce content. Can I expose this?” He’s like, “No, because if my name is attached to saying anything about this, then I lose all opportunities in the city. I’m blacklisted. You don’t get opportunities if you’re the guy who plays the Black card.” I had to keep my mouth shut, talk to him about it, and process how he was handling it.
Sure enough, he was offered a position in another state to be paid more money, given more responsibility, be trusted more deeply, and be treated with more dignity. He left. He no longer lives here with his family. Those are some of the most talented people that I’ve met. Who’s next? There are so many stories. What’s frustrating for me as a White person is talking to other White people. It’s not everybody. A lot of people are sympathetic. Their biggest confusion is, “I don’t know what to do.”
There are quite a few who hear this conversation and instantly write it off by saying, “Here we go talking about the myth of White privilege. Everyone wants to pull the Black card.” We as White people are like a people group with dementia. We are on this loop of saying the same script. No matter what stories we hear, we have to reject them to keep our script. There are countless stories but I would love to hear how you answer the question of what it’s like to be Black.
I don’t think we have enough time to talk about what it means to be Black. I’ll give a short contribution to that question. I want to make sure I leave time for Khalif as well. The way to sum it up is that the Black experience in America, not just in Wisconsin, is different for us because we always have to be aware that we are Black in America. Our awareness of being a Black man or a Black woman in America causes us to do things very differently and live our lives in certain ways.
For example, I can’t put my hood in going into a grocery store. There may be six White kids in a grocery store with their hoods on but I can’t do that. I know that as a Black man. Part of our conditioning to living in America is that we have to think about the decisions that we make, the conversations that we have, the places that we go, and when we’re going to those certain places.
There are certain areas in Milwaukee. I have family that won’t go to certain suburban neighborhoods after dark because of the fear of being pulled over and mistreated, which has happened. It happens time and time again. The Black experience in America that’s different is that as Black people, we have to always consider our awareness that we’re Black. When we’re going to get that job, we have to know that the odds are against us. When we’re walking into a room full of White people, we have to understand that there is a perception about us as soon as we walk into the room.
It’s that constant awareness of being cognitive of the fact that I’m a Black man. These are the things that I have to do differently. Here’s a perfect story. Richie, we were all together in Colorado. There were twenty White guys. I was the only Black guy in Breckenridge, Colorado. We were making jokes about leaving the airport. I told you, “I’m going to get stopped when we’re going through TSA.” Everybody laughed but lo and behold, in TSA, we were all lined up together.Ignorance is really what holds people back from actually knowing how the vast majority of African-Americans really are. Click To Tweet
TSA stopped me, pull my bag, searched me, and held me. That was a front-row experience for you to see this is real. We’re not making this stuff up. These are realities that we have to face and because of that, it determines how we plan, live, and move. We understand that there are challenges and hurdles that we have to jump into that White people don’t even have to consider. That sums up for me the Black experience in America.
For me, the Black experience has been a lot of self-checking and self-awareness as DJ alluded to. It’s knowing that I may not be entitled to or afforded the same opportunities as the 33 or 34-year-old White guy. I use it as a motivation. It’s almost a chip on my shoulder. It’s like, “I know that John Doe already has a one-up on me. It is what it is.” It’s knowing how to move differently, not only in a business setting but also when you’re out in the community.
There’s DWB or Driving While Black. It’s getting stopped for no reason by some cops with the intent of taking their chances. They’re like, “If I stop them, maybe he has a warrant or something in the car. Maybe I can find something.” It’s getting followed around the grocery store and having White ladies switch sides of streets when you’re walking on the sidewalk and clutching their purses a little bit tighter when they see you. That’s not me but perception is reality. Sometimes that ignorance or lack of experience holds them back from knowing how the vast majority of African-Americans are.
Going back to what’s going on, do you think all the media attention is going to change anything moving forward? What do you see coming from this?
Personally, we pray that things change. This time, the outcry and the uproar feel different because of the circumstances due to the pandemic and people having the time to pay attention. No one is traveling. Everyone is living on their devices or phones. The world watching Mr. Floyd die and having the time and the opportunity for that to soak in is causing an opportunity.
The effects of this will be changed. You have people who are in positions of power who in the past have had the power to bend and change the law regarding how people are policed. Those people are even being moved in a direction to roll their sleeves up to say, “I’m going to do my part.” At the end of the day, we don’t know what will change but for me, it feels different.
I won’t go too far into the woods on this but if you look at history, there’s always that incident or moment in history that moves the needle in a tremendous way. You look at some of our civil rights leaders who put their life on the line and sacrificed themselves for change. Mr. Floyd didn’t want to be that person. He didn’t have a choice in the matter but if history tells us something, it is those moments.
There are those moments that move the needle in a way for change. This feels like one of those moments where he will be remembered in a way that says, “After this death, there was a global uprising and outcry for change. As a result of it, these are the things that are different now in regards to how police interact with people, specifically Black people.”
If we make all the noise that we’re making and take all of the phone calls pushing for change and putting all the time, energy, and effort into it but things don’t change, then America is in a worse condition than we have ever known because if there has ever been an opportunity to take such a charged moment, I believe this is that opportunity. I’m anticipating things will change after this. Will things be perfect? Of course not. There’s always more work to be done but the needle and the chains are going to move us ahead after this.
Greg, I want to go back to something you alluded to. White people can write off the Black experience. Some mean well but they’re clueless about what they can do. I’ve gotten a lot of questions. DJ, when I called you, I was like, “As a White guy, I would like to help. What can I do?” It’s something that I realized as a White guy. I consider myself not racist and nice to everyone. I try and make things as inclusive as possible. I could be doing more. Not being a part of the problem is not enough to move things forward. What do you think White people reading can do to make a difference as opposed to, “I’m not a racist. I’m not part of the problem,” or encouraging anything?
I have a couple of anecdotal stories of what has happened so far. One, a friend of mine has a son who plays football. He’s a freshman in college. When he was in high school, he decided to protest during the national anthem at multiple high school football games. He got shredded for it. This is a Black African-American teenager who was passionate about it. This was coming from a place of, “I’m very tired of being seen this way.” A lot of his teammates were White. Most of his school is White.
He got put under fire by a lot of people for trying to make a statement about how Black people have been treated in many contexts. One of his classmates who were the hardest on him called him and for half an hour apologized for not understanding what he now understands. What can White people do? That high schooler modeled it in such a profound way where he was self-suspicious and open enough to listen with new ears because there’s something unique about this George Floyd situation and outcry.The feeling of oppression during the pandemic was probably the closest thing for some white people to feel to what it's like to be black. Click To Tweet
To continue holding onto the same script is insane. One thing this teenager talked about was how he was spouting out at the time what he was hearing. He was saying that the script he was handed from his family and community. He was now thinking for himself and realizing, “I was ridiculing this kid and my teammates. I didn’t need to.” There are a lot of opportunities there for us to listen in a new way and let go of our scripts.
It’s simple empathy and emotional intelligence to be able to say, “I’m going to listen to you and wear your story until it changes something in me. I’m going to resist the need to judge your story, explain it away, and explain to you why you shouldn’t feel that way.” That’s the default for a lot of us White people when we don’t know what to do or if it makes us feel uncomfortable.
We’re not the smartest person in the room because we have blind spots. We panic and start, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” The real reason is that I don’t want to feel this way so you can’t feel that way. Let’s all explain this away. I’m going to put this under the category of, “There’s more to the story. I’m not going to hear what you’re saying. I’m going to reframe that in my mind so I can hang onto my script.” We can let go of our scripts.
A second anecdote I would share is what I’m seeing in Minneapolis. It’s profound to see. The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota public schools canceled their contracts with the police department. They’re losing money until they prove that there’s a new culture in place and systems to reduce police brutality, which is a problem across the spectrum, not just with the African-American community. Police brutality is a problem, especially as it relates to minorities.
White people can also help encourage that action. It’s not saying, “All the police officers are bad.” It’s saying, “We support the police too.” There are a lot of good police officers. We want to see great relationships with the police and the community but when there’s a problem, there’s got to be financial pressure. I say that because historically, it’s financial pressure that got us in this problem in a lot of ways. You’ve studied the history of mass incarceration and why it’s easy to have these behaviors that we’re seeing. There’s a lot of money involved.
Watching a community put pressure on a police station with finances is something for us to take note of and understand. That’s a way that change is going to happen as well. It’s to be educated about why that’s happening, why are they making those decisions, what that is going to force and cause, and how can that be used as a tool. Those are things that we can consider.
My wife, Laura, wrote an article about this whole situation referencing how when White communities were frustrated with the pandemic lockdown, we showed up in state capitals and got things changed. We have the power to do that. The point was feeling oppressed via the pandemic. Maybe the closest thing that some White people are ever going to feel what it’s like being Black is with civil liberties being taken from you that you feel they shouldn’t.
You used your power to then change that. That’s the kind of power that the African-American community historically does not have. The Black community looking at all of these White people changing stuff with their power is pointing and saying, “That thing happened. That’s the thing we need. Would you please use your influence to change things for the better for us?”
I’ve gotten several calls from White people who are close to me and friends asking the same question, “What is it that I can do?” What I’m sharing on goals is very parallel to what Greg is saying. I’ve summed it up in two things. It’s important that the White community has a level of genuine compassion and empathy for those who are being affected by the unjust system and not a manufactured sense of compassion and empathy, because a manufactured one is only prompted when there is an uprising such as what we’re experiencing. A genuine heart of compassion and empathy is something that is practiced and rehearsed daily.
It’s real. It doesn’t need to be coached. If the White community has to be coached to show empathy and compassion, then it’s limited in regards to what its abilities are and what it can do to affect change. The first thing is having that genuine level of compassion and empathy. Secondly, everyone has to use what they have. I don’t think anyone expects anyone to do anything outside of their ability or anything that they can’t do. Use what you have.
For example, Richie, you’re using what you have. You have a platform or an outlet that allows you to get messaging to people. Some people are Fortune 500 CEOs. What is it you have that you can use to positively affect the situation that has taken place? All some people have is their voice. How is it that you can use your voice to help positively affect the situation? Those are the two things. Have real true compassion and care for the people who are being affected.
If you had that compassion and care, and it’s a hard thing and not something prompted, then it’s going to change how you operate and communicate with other White people. It’s going to be something very genuine. It will be a part of who you are. If you are a decent human being, everyone has a certain empathy and compassion for an elderly person. I was driving to the grocery store and I saw an elderly person trip and fall. I didn’t stop to see, “Is this a White person or a Black person?”White people should educate themselves not on the effects of racism but on the cause. Click To Tweet
I saw an elderly person. I got out to help her up because I have genuine compassion and empathy for an elderly person who was out walking by themselves. That didn’t have to be prompted or encouraged. That was something that was in my heart. When it’s a heart thing, there’s an automatic response to respond differently to people who you see are being mistreated and then use what you have because that’s the most important thing. Use what you have, whatever it is that you think you have, and what you have access to.
If you have an influence, that’s huge. If you can pick up the phone and get to other people of power and influence and you all can come together to make things, that’s what you should do. I don’t think that people should stress themselves out because it is overwhelming. I don’t think people should say, “I don’t know what to do.” Everyone has something and your something can add to the fight. It doesn’t have to be what the next person has but whatever it is you have, even if it’s you going out and being a part of the protest.
That’s part of it because there are people who make a change on the scene and behind the scene but they both work together because the people behind the scene leverage the noise that the people are making on the scene to say, “Do you hear and see the cries of the people?” These are the things we need to do. They all work together. If everybody can take what they have and use it to help bring about change, it will put us in a good place.
Three E words came to my mind. The first one is Educate, the second one is Emotional Intelligence, and the third is Exposure. In the first one, Educate, what White people can do right away is to educate themselves. Keep forcing the issue, not on the effects but educate themselves on the cause of why people are protesting, why people are outraged, and why people are doing what they’re doing. When White people are more educated, then they can have a sense of empathy. They will have that emotional intelligence and start to understand a little bit better.
People like Richie can use the next E word as Exposure. It’s getting that positive message out and using the platforms and quite frankly your privilege to help push the messaging that needs to be sent out. We will focus on Milwaukee but it’s an outcry. People want to be heard. People are not being heard and helped. We tried all the letters of the alphabet. We’re at Z. What do we do? We’re going to protest and do this and then the third because we’re not seeing the results that we have seen. It has been something that’s ingrained on both ends of the spectrum for over 400 years. Educate and then you can have that emotional intelligence and use that exposure.
I want to talk to you about parenting. You’re all fathers. DJ, you have three kids. Greg, you have four daughters. Khalif, you have two kids. Both are young. I would love to backtrack a little bit. Do you have any initial memories when you were a child of when you first realized your Blackness or that you were going to be treated differently than your White friends? Greg, maybe it’s the opposite for you. I would be curious. What are you telling your kids during this time? You could touch on your kids a little bit and let people know what ages they are to add some context.
In the first experience that I had as a youth in Milwaukee knowing that I would be treated and viewed differently, I was about 9 or 10 at the time. A buddy of mine lives on the Northside. I was over by his house. We were playing basketball. I was hanging out around the neighborhood. I got thirsty and went to go to the gas station. At the time, I had on basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He was a pretty boy. He had on a colorful Tommy Hilfiger button-up to go to the gas station because he thought we were going to see some girls but that’s beside the point.
As we’re walking to the gas station, we see this cop squad pass. We didn’t think anything of it. We were still laughing and joking. As we get 50 yards away from the gas station, the cop car circles back around real fast, turns on the lights, hops out, and says, “Stop.” I’m like, “What’s going on?” They hop out and start frisking us, checking us, and asking us where have we been. They’re like, “Your buddy here fits the description of a guy that committed a robbery.”
Mind you, we were 9 to 10 years old. They said that a male who committed a robbery had the same shirt that matched the shirt that he had, which was a very colorful shirt. After questioning and whatnot, they found out that we didn’t do anything. They had the decency in their hearts to drive us back to my buddy’s house in the squad car so that we could talk to his parents and let them know what happened. That was the first incident that turned me off. I don’t like cops like that.
It’s those traumatic experiences. You experienced those at a young age and as you get older, then every time you see those lights go up behind you, you’re like, “What’s next?” With dashcam videos and everything, hopefully, if something happens, then justice is served but what we have been seeing most recently, it hasn’t been. That was my first experience. I got a son and then a daughter. I had a tough conversation with them. He was like, “Daddy, why are people protesting?”
I was like, “It’s because the police did something bad to George Floyd.” He was like, “What did he do?” I said nothing. He was like, “Bad things are supposed to happen to people when they do something bad.” I was like, “Sometimes you don’t have to do anything to experience something bad.” That was a tough conversation I had to have with a five-year-old. I was telling them, “You can control what you can control. There are some things you got to leave in the hands of God.”
I remember growing up. At an early age, my dad started to have conversations with me to help make me aware that things are going to be different because I was a Black kid, but he didn’t do it in a way that he was apologetic about it. He did it in a way that prepared me and continued to prepare me for life and the situations that I will be in. That was one of the strongest tools that my dad gave me as a kid growing up. He would tell me things like, “At these things, you’re going to have to work twice or three times as hard as the next person.”As a black person, it's not worth speaking your mind when you may not make it home to your family. Click To Tweet
I took that to heart. He would tell me, “You’re not going to be able to tell police officers how you feel or think about them pulling you over for no reason. You don’t have that luxury. You want to get home. Necessarily, it’s not worth you speaking your mind when you may not make it home.” It was those lessons growing up that equipped me and prepared me to be a Black man in America.
I have three children now. I’ll look at my son and start to feel that same fatherly concern that my dad had for me. On a Sunday evening, I had to sit down with my son, Tres, and my daughter, Chloe. I asked them questions like, “What is race? What is racism?” My ten-year-old was a little more hip to it. He knew but they didn’t know all of the ins and outs of racism. As a parent, it’s time for me to start having those conversations to educate my children.
One of the challenges that I personally had in having those conversations with my children is I don’t want to give them a reason to not want to embrace everybody. I want to help them understand that there are the police. White people are good people. You don’t categorize all people because you have some bad apples. My experience with the police growing up was different. I remember the police pulling up. We lived over near Northridge Lakes. I remember them coming to the neighborhood and giving basketball cards to the kids with the gum in them.
That was my introduction to the police. I didn’t grow up with a chip on my shoulder about police but I did grow up with an awareness that not all police are good people. That’s the challenge I have when I start to have these conversations about race and racism with my children because I don’t want them to feel a certain way when Greg’s family comes over like, “White people don’t like us.” I want them to love and embrace all people because that’s our responsibility. I have to make them aware.
The awareness that is most important for my kids is that if something happens in their lives that express a tone of racism, they tell me. That’s the biggest thing for me. I don’t want them to hide the fact that something happened, someone called them out of their names, or they felt like they were mistreated. I want them to know, “If those things happen, you can tell me and we will figure it out and do what’s necessary to make things right. Not all people are bad people. All White people aren’t against you.” That’s the balancing act of having those conversations with my kids.
It’s so fascinating to think about the difference between my childhood versus yours in that way of how your Blackness means something that you have to talk about as a family. White families don’t explain to their kids, “You’re White.”
Greg, where did you grow up?
I grew up around Madison.
I was from Madison too. I had a very White upbringing. I wasn’t around many people of color or minorities growing up. I wasn’t super aware of racism or the situation itself.
I was very drawn to hip-hop music. I got involved with hip-hop crews in high school. That was my entryway into a diverse group of friends. Being in that White context, no one talks to you about it necessarily but I discovered it at an early age. I was eight years old and I was watching the news. There was this tall African-American man wearing a black coat and a black stocking cap being interviewed. I wasn’t even conscious of what he was talking about but he was being interviewed.
My mom was behind me making food or something. I was like, “I wouldn’t want to run into that guy in a dark alley.” My mom dropped her stuff. She was like, “What did you say?” I was like, “I don’t know.” She came over to me, sat down, and got in my face. She was like, “Did you say that because he’s Black?” I was like, “I don’t know.” I thought about it and I’m like, “I guess so.” My mom was like, “You will never judge a man because of his skin color. You do not know that man.” I was shaken.
Looking back on it, my parents never talked that way. They spoke very positively about people who were different. I never heard anything in my home that had a tinge of racism to it but here I was saying, “I wouldn’t want to meet that guy in a dark alley.” Why? It’s a profound thing. By simply being a consumer of American culture through television and regular daily life, I knew exactly what to say when I saw that guy on the TV. It took an in-your-face confrontation from my mom for me to be aware of it as a kid.You don't categorize all types of people because you have some bad apples. Click To Tweet
The thing that is so important, Greg, is that your mom didn’t let that slide. That was a huge opportunity for a learning moment, which in my opinion shaped the person you are. Not enough of those conversations are being had in White households because that’s where it starts in my opinion. We as fathers are doing our part to make sure that we raise good people.
If those conversations in White households aren’t being had, then we’re leaving it up to American consumption to shape our children and tell them who we are and how we operate as people. That was an excellent parenting moment. For any White parents reading, have those conversations with your children so that they aren’t learning solely about who Black people are perceived to be based on the media, television, and music.
Do your part to let your children know that Black people are people like you and that we are not to be judged by the color of our skin and that we are as intelligent, talented, loving, and caring. That is the responsibility of the parents. Greg gave an example of how that can positively affect an adult by having that experience as a child. That’s phenomenal. Thank you for sharing that.
It could have gone either way which way though.
Greg, imagine if when you made that comment, your mom was like, “You got to stay away from those guys.” That changes your whole trajectory and mindset. You’re like, “Mom is teaching me this and she’s in agreeance with me with how this guy looks scary.” You’re going to grow up with that idea, “This guy is scary.” When you do encounter a Black person, you already have a perception of what you think he or she is. Those conversations need to be had but other conversations don’t need to be had. It starts in the house. Those ideas, racism, and whatnot are learned behaviors. Kudos to your mom because we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Personally, I don’t want to be the one to inform your child about how to treat Black people. To my daughter even in gymnastics, the White girls would say, “Why is your hair like that?” Although it may be harmless to them, that gives my daughter a complex about having Black hair because our hair isn’t like a White girl’s hair. My thing is when children ask my kids questions like that and look at my kids a certain way, that immediately lets me know that the right conversations aren’t happening in your household. It’s very important that we all do our part. I’m going to talk to my kids and make sure that they have a clear understanding. It’s important that you talk to yours as well because I don’t want to be the one to talk to your children. I’m raising my own. It’s important for you to raise yours.
Greg, it’s good hearing your story. I had a similar experience. I grew up in Madison. The neighborhood was probably 99% White. I had a rich family and White privilege. I did nothing to deserve that. I was born into that. My dad and my grandfather are very good examples. I got to see it early on and get a good perspective. He made me aware that too much is given and much is expected and required. It’s so important to give back. That instilled a level of guilt in me at a young age for having money and being White.
My aunt did this too and they still do this. I don’t know if it was through Big Brothers Big Sisters but he mentored several Black kids. I would befriend them, go into some of the bad neighborhoods or poor neighborhoods in Madison, and get a firsthand look at what that was like. It was eye-opening for me as an 8 to 10-year-old from a rich White community, going in and seeing how people lived differently from the White privileged lifestyle that I lived in and how it was important to give back. He wouldn’t have let any of that slide.
I also had an experience around the same age. We probably had one Black kid in our middle or grade school. One time, I don’t know what someone said to him but he was alone crying in the bathroom. I went up to him and I was like, “What’s going on?” He said, “Someone said X.” I was like, “They’re stupid. That’s okay.” I didn’t understand but that was the first time that I saw people being treated differently because of the color of their skin.
It was growing up and being exposed to different environments other than the bubble that I grew up in at an early age. I was lucky to have parents that do give back quite a bit. It was good that they instilled a level of guilt or made me aware, “You’ve been given a lot. You need to do good with this and give back at an early age.” That was my experience growing up in a rich White family but I’m guessing most rich White kids don’t have that or don’t get that.
The bubble is real. My wife and I talk about that all the time. The bubble contributes to a certain level of ignorance. I say that with no disrespect. A lot of times, because of the bubble, you’re unaware. A lot of people can become unaware of how their actions affect Black people. The fact that you’re living in the bubble or still given those tools and principles is so important. It helps to shape who you are as an adult.
To end, this is a Milwaukee-based show. What would you like to see differently from the leadership in this city or maybe the business community in general? We’re all involved in the business community and you are all very successful in your own rights. We touched on what it was like being Black in general but this is a Milwaukee business-oriented audience. I remember, Khalif when you came on my show at the Fall Experiment years ago. One of the benefits of doing this show and having it be inclusive is getting a lot of different perspectives that I didn’t have growing up in a White environment.Everyone should do their part as responsible parents to teach their kids about racism. Don't let someone else teach your child. Click To Tweet
Even through college at Marquette, it was mostly around White kids. Khalif, you and Monte Eady were on the show. You were like, “It’s weird. Sometimes it’s difficult and awkward being the only Black guy going to an event or a meeting full of White people and having to get over that and have the odds stacked against you in a way.” Naively, that wasn’t even something I had considered. I had been used to being in this environment that was 90% White people my whole life. I’m curious to get your take on what we could be doing better as the business community to help this issue.
I would even go back around the time of the Fall Experiment. It’s the reason for our Blueprint program being started, which is our business accelerator. It started because there was a tech event that a large Wisconsin-based company held here in Milwaukee. There were 450 people but only 5 people of color were there. That shows you in itself.
Initially, from a business standpoint, support those African-American businesses like YES with The Blueprint who’s providing entrepreneurial education, tech training, and STEAM training for youth throughout the city, state, and country. You can start supporting these African-American companies and educating yourself. It goes back to those three Es. Education and entrepreneurship, for me, are equalizers. Those level the playing field and give everybody a fair shot at being as successful as possible.
Khalif said it when we’re creating opportunities for Black-owned businesses and Black nonprofits. This is my opinion without any real factual basis attached to it. Our big businesses in Corporate America can become very lazy when we start talking about D&I and how we positively affect the Black community. The easy thing for them is to continue to send big checks to the usual suspect organizations.
I’m not against those organizations who have big brands and are easily accessible but it does take a little more time and effort to find the Hope Street of the world, which is doing great work in the city of Milwaukee, taking in people and helping them thrive in life after having traumatic experiences, addictions, and so on.
If you as a CEO or a business owner say, “I don’t know where these organizations are. All I know is to continue to support these five major organizations within,” there’s more work that needs to be done, there are more questions that need to be asked, and there are more advocates that we need to have relationships with that can say, “I know the organizations that are moving the needle in the Black community. I know where the resources and the funding need to go.”
If we continue to sit back and just support a handful of organizations because they’re easily accessible, that’s not enough because meanwhile, there are the smaller organizations like your YES who are doing big and major things and helping to develop the leaders of tomorrow. YES doesn’t have the brand of an organization that has been around for 100 years. It doesn’t mean that they’re any less effective. It only means that they need access to resources and opportunities.
That’s what I would like to see happen. I would like for the business community of Milwaukee to be more intentional about how we affect Black businesses and Black nonprofits. Be more intentional. Call me. I can help direct you to some amazing organizations. Call Khalif and Greg. Call us and email us. We’re accessible. We have an ear to the ground about what’s going on in the community, the resources that are needed, and how you can positively affect our city.
By no means this is an indictment against anyone for doing the things that you do because the larger the organizations, the larger givers to the community. They are very necessary because they have the capacity to do things that smaller organizations can’t but it doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who can touch the lives of Black people in the city of Milwaukee.
I would add a couple of things to that. In relation to Diversity and Inclusion, my wish is that business leaders in Milwaukee and around the country would give actual authority to the Diversity and Inclusion arms of their companies. Most often, I see it as, “We’re one of those.” Their job is to make sure that we see content about diversity. When in reality, they should be given authority to speak into whether or not our product, the way we sell and tell our stories, and how we are embodying a care for Diversity and Inclusion in how we function, hire, and think.
Do we have the authority to even challenge a C-level leader who’s oblivious to his or her patterns that don’t work and are not healthy? Companies would benefit greatly from giving more authority to the D&I or Diversity and Inclusion leaders in their companies. Those who have are going to profoundly benefit and are benefiting. I would also like to see companies depoliticize the conversation of races to be the leaders who say, “This conversation about what’s happening, we don’t need to politicize this. It’s okay for you to be open about how you feel about this. Let’s be honest about it.”
There are so many people being quiet. A lot more people than normal are communicating. Exponentially, more people are communicating but it’s still very quiet in some of the leadership. I would like to see business leaders put pressure on politicians locally to lead with empathy and demand answers to questions like, “Who’s saying we’re supposed to shoot people with rubber bullets and tear gas when they’re peacefully protesting? Who’s making that decision?”
The business community does influence the politicians because they pay for their campaigns. There are big decisions for our city being made based on who’s contributing dollars. You can put pressure on easily and overnight change things if the business community in Milwaukee puts pressure on leaders in this city. The last thing is I would love to see the business community aggressively and intentionally return the authority to the next generation that is passionate about this, trust more, and cling less to control of how things are.
Given those who are in the positions of D&I authorities, it’s huge because to your point, what those departments have turned into is box check-in. We had a conversation about this. We filled our quota there. Those who want to see change happen a lot of times don’t have the authority, power, or influence to do those things. That’s tremendously important.
We’re going to end it there. Thank you so much for coming on and having this conversation. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much, Richie.
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