Young people from Madison and Georgia expressed frustration at disparities, profiling and other struggles rooted in racism, as well as hope for their own generation, at a virtual town hall meeting Friday with the family of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man shot and killed in February while out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia.
The town hall was hosted by the Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority (CGACA), Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and Madison365.
Arbery’s sister Jasmie Arbery, older by one year, said she’s still numb to the fact that her brother is gone.
“It’s like living in a different world because I haven’t had my sense of normalcy in a long time right now, since February 23, and it seems so far away,” she said. “But I know in this journey of trying to find this unique place of normal again, it’s going to be different because Ahmaud was the person who encouraged me to reach my goals, um, who helped me through crisis, (and) who just shaped me to be who I am right now. So without him being physically here, it’s going to be different.”
Jasmine Arbery has one year left to finish her master’s degree in counseling. Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson pledged to raise $15,000 to cover the last year of her tuition; as of Tuesday evening, $13,300 had been raised. Donations are still being accepted at https://www.bgcdc.org/donate.
“He respected everyone,” Jasmine said. “I look at it as I’m his older sister, and I feel like I’m his protector. I’ve always been his protector, and I want his voice to shine through me.”
Madison365 CEO Henry Sanders and CGACA Chief Development Officer Zerik Samples moderated a discussion with young people from Georgia and Madison, as well as Georgia NAACP President James Woodall — at 26, the youngest state NAACP president ever elected.
“This event happening really rose an uproar in me, it really upset me,” said Noah Anderson, who is about to graduate from Madison West High School, where he is the president of the Black Student Union. Anderson led the protests against the firing of his father, security guard Marlon Anderson, who was terminated for defending himself against a student’s use of the n-word. Marlon Anderson ultimately got his job back.
“I just want this to end,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to see no more names on my feed.”
Anderson said it has to start with education.
“We all share history,” he said. “History is history at the end of the day. But I didn’t, until my junior year of high school, learn anything about any of my history. And not just my African American history, but my African history.” He added that schools should teach not just black history, but also those of other minority groups.
UW-Madison student Sirena Flores recounted being profiled at her own home.
“I’ve experienced being racially profiled,” said Sirena Flores on the Zoom call. “I was arrested on my own front porch ‘cause someone thought I was robber.” Flores, a political science and sociology major, said she was “a victim of racial profiling, when I’m someone who’s working really hard. And I’m angry.”
Actor Omari Hardwick, who stars as James “Ghost” St. Patrick on the Starz show Power, joined the call to offer encouragement to the students and to Arbery’s family.
He said acts of discrimination and violence against Black people are often rooted in fear.
“You don’t have enough white people taking ownership and admitting to the fact that first and foremost they’re fearful of black people, period,” he said. “Whether they call us n*****s, whether they call us Negros, whether they call us black Americans, whatever it is … education can only start once people go, you know what, I’m a little fearful and it’s not a fear from personal experience.” Rather, he said, it’s just a fear born in the cultural assumption that Black people, no matter the situation, are “up to no good.”
The nearly two-hour conversation touched on education, white guilt, lowered expectations, feeling love on a day to day basis and much more.