Had an interesting email exchange this morning with Rusty Kennedy, executive director of OC Human Relations.
He'd shared an email about a "Listening Session" being held at an African American church in Yorba Linda Sunday in light of November's revelation about racism a black family says drove them out of the city.
This will make more sense if we go in chronological order. In November, I posted this:
It's about a police officer, his sheriff's deputy wife and their children--African American all--having moved out of Yorba Linda for Corona because of the racism they say they encountered in their 1 1/2 years in "The Land of Gracious Living." But before they left for what has so far been a more welcoming community, the mother, identified as Anitra, shared the family's sad tale with Kennedy.
We normally hear from the OC Human Relations chief when his commission releases its annual report tallying up reported hate crimes in Orange County (or when Board of Supervisors members cut the panel's funding). But in this instance Kennedy detailed the hell the black family went through in an email to "Friends of the Commission." Also attached was a copy of a letter a heartbroken commission chairwoman Carol Turpen sent to the family.
You can read both in that original post linked above. Several readers did, as witnessed by the number of Facebook likes, retweets and especially the comments, many of which came from presumed whites blasting me and Kennedy for exposing the family's story without more corroboration (or, in my case, doing so in such a snarky fashion). To be fair and balanced, there were also reactions left by folks who said they were African American and had also experienced racism in Orange County.
AND, I heard via Facebook and an annual holiday get together from dear friends who happen to live near where Anitra's family used to in Yorba Linda and whose children attended the same school that Anitra's did. More on that after today's message from Kennedy about the Listening Session . . .
Dear Friends in the Fourth Estate
When Anitra called OC Human Relations Commission and related her family's story of hate crimes and incidents over their year and a half in Yorba Linda, our Commissioners were outraged and wanted to reach out and help her family feel safe and welcomed.
Unfortunately, I had to tell them that Anitra called us as a last act before moving to a more welcoming community. She said, "I thought maybe I should tell someone what happened to our family before we left".
Our subsequent research uncovered the fact that the Brea Police had not identified the two hate crimes as hate crimes. We always state when releasing the annual hate crime report that we know that this is just a partial count of reported hate crime, but when two hate crimes as viscious as these are not counted, the Commission felt the need to look deeper into the story of African Americans in Orange County, whose day-to-day reality may be quite different that most residents.
We organized these Listening Sessions to collect those stories, some of hate crimes, most of lesser humiliations, insults, and perceived discrimination.
This Sunday, January 27 at 2:00pm we will be listening to the stories of Friendship Baptist Church members in Yorba Linda. Some concerned Yorba Linda residents will also join this session out of their desire to make their community a more welcoming, safer place for ALL people.
FOR MORE INFO:
Rev. Kenneth Curry, Executive Minister,
Friendship Baptist Church:
Kennedy's email today immediately reminded me of those conversations with my friends, who are white (like me!). So I shared this with the OC Human Relations leader in a reply:
Thank you for this, Rusty. I forgot to mention to you that after I posted something on our news blog about Anitra's last act, I heard from some dear friends who happened to live close to Anitra's former home in Yorba Linda. My friends' youngest child also attended the same school. My friends, who are white, were very dubious of Anitra's story. They had heard of neighborhood vandalism but not race-based vandalism. They'd heard nothing of the incidents at school. And they wanted to let me know they know another African American family nearby that has never experienced what Anitra says her family did. Meanwhile, they've heard through the grapevine Anitra and her husband did not seem welcoming when approached by others.
The only reason I bring all this up is I know I'm going to hear from these friends after I (gladly) post something [on] this gathering. I'll also forward a link to them in case they want to attend. I was just wondering if you've also received any feedback like what I've described above.
That brought this:
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Anitra and her family are very credible.
Although their story seems unbelievable to many who have never experienced bigotry, it resonates with most I have spoken with in the African American community.
Each time I relate the story to an African American they might start with well I never had anything that bad happen, but, I was stopped by a cop who said my tail light was out who proceeded to give me the third degree, only to let me go without a ticket. Then I realized that my tail light was not out.
Or felt slighted by retail establishments who scrutinize them as if they were thieves instead of customers.
Or been called the N-word.
Or feel that they were passed over for a job or promotion because they were Black. Etc.
It is hard to believe when you have not faced hate and bigotry.
It is hard to be outgoing and positive when you have experienced so many negative interactions and looks. So don't expect that every Black person is going to move into a predominately White neighborhood without the baggage that a lifetime of indignities leaves with you. SOME will overcome this with amazing character and strength.
Some will not...
And as much as I appreciate this friend of yours relating that their African American friend never experiences any of this type of discrimination, I would rather hear that from their African American friend. Sometimes the stories do not flow to those who do not listen carefully.
About the Listening Session, IT is for OC Human Relations Commission to Listen to the Stories of the Friendship Baptist congregants.
IT IS not a public forum on racism.
It is not a debate.
It is not an opportunity to challenge the stories people are sharing.
The Commission is there to LISTEN, and while we welcome other members of the public, we ask that they observe the same rules for this type of DEEP LISTENING.
Sometimes it is only when you extend your ears in this deep and respectful listening, WITHOUT DEBATE, that you hear some of what you never would otherwise know.
There are opportunities on other days and places, such as our monthly public Commission meetings where such testimony from your friend would be more than welcome: 2nd Thursday of the month 7:00pm 1300 S. Grand, Bldg. B, Santa Ana.
Asked in my reply to Kennedy's reply if he then has NOT received any feedback like I had from my friends, he answered, "No that was the first I heard disparaging Anitra and her family. And, yes, I have heard of many who have not experienced this type of hate. My lengthy response was a bit wide of your question perhaps."
When you're doing the Lord's work, better that it be a bit wide than not at all. Go, Yorba Lindans (or anyone else interested), experience some deep listening this Sunday afternoon. If that sparks a strong reaction from you, share it at one of those regular commission meetings Kennedy has graciously invited us all to attend. Better we talk it out than keep it bottled up.