The Transylvania Times -

Black Community Members Hope For Change

 

Last updated 6/10/2020 at 4:55pm

Matt McGregor

Randy Lytle (left) and Tommy Kilgore stand on the site of the proposed new Mary C. Jenkins Community Center in the Rosenwald community.

Change and unification are what Tommy Kilgore hopes to see rise from the death of George Floyd.

"A change is evident; change is coming," said Kilgore, president of the Transylvania County Chapter of the NAACP. "And I think it will be a positive change. It will be one that I believe will unify Americans of all race, color and creed. I believe that it will unify this country."

Floyd, born in Fayetteville, N.C., was allegedly killed by Minneapolis, Minn., police officer Derek Chauvin, who was kneeling on Floyd's neck and back for 8 minutes and 46 seconds when Floyd died of cardiopulmonary arrest on May 25.

Since the incident, protests emerged nationwide, with recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as infiltrations of instigating saboteurs. On June 8, Gov. Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 145, which was initiated to create a task force that "develops and implements strategies and polices to eliminate systematic racism in the state's criminal justice system."

George Floyd's Funeral was at The Fountain of Praise church in Houston, Texas, on June 9.

Floyd's death at the hands of police officers, Kilgore said, "harkens back to the 1950s and '60s in the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., during the Civil Rights movement."

Born and raised in Brevard, Kilgore grew up in the segregated environment and attended segregated schools up to the eighth grade, when he was a part of the first class to integrate into the Transylvania County school system in 1973.

"The experiences I had during childhood were ones of being separate and unequal," he said.

Kilgore joined the Civil Rights movement and went to college in Los Angeles, Calif., where he was a member of the youth branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"I was there when four white police officers where acquitted (in 1992) for the beating of Rodney King on video," Kilgore said. "The acquittal of those officers by an all-white jury is what spawned the race riots. I was there during the riots, and I saw the burning of South Central and West Los Angeles.

"Businesses and establishments, which were black-owned, were burned and looted, and it was one of the downsides to the movement."

Decades later, that negative fragment tainting the protests still exists, Kilgore said.

"There is that element that wants to take advantage of what's going on and it puts a dim light on it," Kilgore said.

Because Floyd's death was filmed with a cellphone, the real time death gave a wider scope and shined a brighter light on the criminal justice system, Kilgore said.

"I understand that not all police are bad, that not all law enforcement agencies are corrupt," he said. "But when you see continuing and continuing instances of this type of brutality, it tells you that there is a mindset within the criminal justice system toward people of color."

The New York City "stop-and-frisk" program, which was an initiative of law enforcement to randomly halt and search people, made minorities a target, Kilgore said, and represented the mindset of law enforcement's perception of the black community.

"That was aimed at people of color," he said. "A number of other police tactics were obviously aimed at people of color, and Floyd's death has brought to light the underlying issue of racism in America that nobody wants to discuss, and it's now being brought to the front. It's now being put on the front pages. It's now being headlined. My hope is that what may come out of this is an entirely different mindset for America."

Amid the protests have arisen the "defund the police" movement, which calls for funds in local governments to be redirected from the police departments to other social service-based departments, which the Minneapolis City Council is considering doing after announcing its plan to dismantle the city police department and replace it with "a new model of public safety."

"We need law enforcement," Kilgore said. "I support law enforcement. I have a very good relationship with both Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris and Sheriff David Mahoney. Our organization with the NAACP has held meetings with both departments. We would like to have a relationship, so if something of this nature happens, that we can join forces, join hands in trying to resolve certain issues. We have in the past. We had some instances at the high school in which the sheriff and police department contacted the NAACP and called us in along with District Attorney Greg Newman.

"We met with them in an effort to get some collaboration on and unity on resolving issues, and it worked very well for us here in Brevard."

However, Floyd's death has "opened wounds," though in his observations of the protests, he sees a positive light in that the marches have brought out a mixture of race, creed and ages groups that weren't seen in the 1950s and 1960s.

"The marches throughout the country were predominately black back then," he said. "But now you have a cross section, and I think that's wonderful. There are more teenagers who are participating by the thousands."

If one were to listen to the voices of the protesters at the Transylvania County Courthouse over the weekend, one would hear voices expressing a time for a change, he said.

"I think the establishment needs to take a look at that and see that this particular situation has put together a unified force of Americans across the country, and I believe that it will lead to a positive outcome," he said. "I pray and I hope that it will lead to a positive outcome."

Sheila Mooney, one of the founding members and chairperson of the Transylvania NAACP Education Committee, said, "We've been dealing with these issues for 400 years."

"Mr. Floyd's death has exposed what we have been trying to expose, what we've been trying to say," she said. "It's no longer just a black person's problem. He (Chauvin) had his knee on his (Floyd's) neck for 8 minutes, but can you imagine being in that position for 8 days, 8 months, 8 years or 400 years? That's exactly what this is. If this is not clear to America that this is what we have become, I don't know what it will take. It's there in living color: A white man kneeling on a black man's neck. That action speaks for itself."

A friend of hers asked her if she felt safe in Brevard, and she said she quickly responded, "Yes."

When asked if other black people felt safe, she said "yes."

"Other than the occasional being stopped for being black, I feel everyone in Brevard is nice and cultured," she said. "White people stay in their lane. We stay in our lane, and it's a nice, quiet place to live. At the same time, I fear for my nephews in bigger cities like Durham or Raleigh, N.C. I have family and friends in New York and California, and while I feel like we have this nice, comfortable little valley in which we live, when something like Mr. Floyd's death happens, it's a painful reminder of what the United States is. I forget to remember that there has been a knee on our necks for 400 years. Sometimes I forget to remember that, and we have a lovely president who reminds me daily of what we are."

Mooney grew up in Brevard, attending Rosenwald Elementary School.

"It was a different world because we stayed in our neighborhood and our parents were very protective of us," she said. "When we went into town, we had to go with an adult or an older sibling because the signs were all there: colored here, white over there, so they protected us from that as much as they could. And then the schools integrated and I ended up going to Brevard High School instead of 9th Avenue in Hendersonville like my older sister and brother. But our parents had to fight for that."

Brevard is unique, she said, and calm.

"It's a beautiful place, and every once in a while there will be an issue in the school system, and we will stand up and talk about that for two or three days and that would be it," she said. "Remember, there are only about 1,000 of us here, and that's over all ages. It's just this little town that welcomes everybody, but this doesn't diminish what is now happening throughout the U.S. and it doesn't diminish how much we feel what has happened. Young black men and women are killed by police. God forbid a black man go bird watching and then he's accused of threatening a white woman. It's pathetic and it keeps happening."

A power has been bestowed upon police officers to treat African Americans differently, she said, and a power has been bestowed upon white people to maintain the status quo.

"When this happens to one of us, we all feel that pain," she said. "No matter where we are living, we feel that pain. What can we do about this locally? I'm still wondering."

Randy Lytle, with the Mary C. Jenkins Community Center board of directors, said in an email that the only solution he sees is "for all races to come together and address the issue to make changes immediately. It has to start with our political leaders from the local level to the national level."

Lytle said that Floyd's death was "unconscionable and very sad."

"I haven't met anyone as of yet who did not feel that what all four of those officers did was unjustified and most are downright angry about it," he said. "Some people are saying that we need to 'move on' or that we need to move past this. Moving on would mean forgetting about it and getting back to where we were, which would be wrong. We as a country need to have drastic and effective changes brought about, such as changes to outdated laws, revamping of police hiring and firing practices, and social justice reform. Whites and blacks need to continue the fight against injustice. If nothing else, just stand up for what is right."

The riots themselves, he said, "are a disgrace."

"I want people to know that we shouldn't categorize protesters and rioters in one group," he said. "They are two separate groups: one is doing what they have a right to do in this country, and the other is breaking the law."

The local police have a "tough job," he said.

"As an educator and coach in this city for many years, I know quite a few officers, and we have fine young men and women on the force who are honorable and decent human beings," he said. "I would never say that all cops are 'bad' and I will continue to support all good cops. There are good and bad people of all races, occupations and religions."

Though there has been progress in racial and social injustice, the injustice continues.

"It's not totally gone and will probably never completely go away due to it being taught and being passed down through generations," he said. "There is no denying that institutional racism is alive and well in Henderson and Transylvania counties. Education is the first step in overcoming it. My father told me that knowledge is power, and I have heard that again many times throughout my life. We have the power to educate ourselves and put that knowledge to use by making change. Racism may never end. However, it is imperative that every person continues the fight against it. If each of us is fighting and is an example, then collectively we may be able to make racism extinct. In Floyd's situation, what would you have done? Would you have stepped in or would you have been a bystander? If one person, black or white, had stepped up, would George be alive today?"

It's Lytle's faith in God, he said, that reminds him that everyone is equal.

"Personally, I stay strong in my convictions and know that no man has power over me," he said. "I also rely on my faith in Jesus Christ, knowing that he made each of us in his likeness."

Brevard City Councilman Maurice Jones said, as an African American growing up in Brevard, he remembers being followed by a police officer from Walmart in Pisgah Forest to his driveway off Main Street, and being followed when walking around Sky City or Roses in Asheville alone, as well as being stared at and bypassed by servers behind the counter, with many more stories like that to tell, he said.

"Now is the time to have conversations," he said.

These conversations should address "the disproportionate representation, or lack thereof, of minorities in media marketing for Transylvania County, racial sensitivity training and direct public relations between citizens and law enforcement," he said.

 
 

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