In the months since Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, some among us have been talking a lot about race.
We’ve taken to the streets, marching, chanting, laying down on the ground in protest. We’re talking in our living rooms, classrooms, churches and on social media.
We’re arguing with each other on Facebook — raise your hand if you’ve lost friends over this messy, complicated topic.
So we asked five Kansas Citians to talk to us about what they’ve been feeling and doing in the aftermath of Ferguson.
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Of the teacher, minister, artist, playwright and mother we asked: Why is this topic so important to you?
“What I have heard from people of color is, ‘Why don’t white people care?’” says the Rev. Chase Peeples, who is white and the father of two adopted biracial sons.
“So I feel that to the extent that I am able, to the extent that I have any kind of authority, as the minister of a primarily white church, I will speak up and say we need to build more relationships with people of color.
“We need to be listening and hearing the stories of people of color because just wanting to be nice people and thinking that we are nice people is not enough.”
Can we talk about race?
Why yes, we can.
Chris Logan, 29, Kansas City
Seminary intern at Southwood United Church of Christ and a substitute teacher in Kansas City and North Kansas City schools.
“I constantly see police officers checking my license plate ... I’m starting to realize that being a young African-American male who also happens to be gay, who is also a Christian seeking ordination credentials ... you know, life is going to be harder for me.”
“For so long the black community has sat back and watched, but this moment seems different. It seems we have the right combination of both vision, passion and energy. We really see that a change is possible if we continue to speak our truth.”
Nick Sawin, 32, Kansas City
A 32-year-old playwright and the marketing director for Unicorn Theatre.
“I have no idea what it is to be a black woman or man in America today. But I know that it’s my duty as a moral and politically involved person to stand up for what I believe in, and there’s a lot of discussion about what it is to be a good ally to your friends in the black community. A lot of people are confused about what to do but you can’t use that as an excuse to do nothing.”
“Eventually injustice unchecked spreads. It comes like a virus that affects the fabric of society and great nations fall because they let injustice run rampant.”
Lori Downing, 49, Grandview
Senior quality analyst for The Hartford insurance company.
“Why should we care about injustice in this country or in this world? Whether it be the issue of racism in America that is so inherent that it's perpetrators are literally blind to its existence within themselves or whether it be black on black crime that has the community so twisted that turning your backs and not ‘snitching’ is actually an option within your soul, or police brutality, profiling and a system that allows its public servants to get away with murder all while its citizens witness with their own eyes men and women being beaten, shot and strangled to death with no consequence.”
“Our fellow citizens who are so polarized that compromising for the sake of helping those who most need it is actually an argument and government who is allowed and oddly supported while playing politics at the expense of the common good. We should all care about all of these things. Because when one hurts we all hurt.”
Amber Andresia, 21, Kansas City
A senior at the Kansas City Art Institute.
“One of the things I’m passionate about with the black community is the opportunities for exposure. Because whenever an individual is able to recognize their context, they’re able to change their context. When someone can recognize that something is not quite right about this, then they can change whatever it is they do not want to accept.”
“When I first came here it was not what I expected it to be. The segregation was really shocking to me. When I was a freshman, there may have been maybe 10 other black students who were freshmen at the same time. But I know last year we had 34 black students. So me going from a place where black culture is a big deal and coming to a place where I am hyper-aware of my blackness, it was very uncomfortable because there were not many people I could identify with on that level. That was difficult for me. But it wasn’t the end. I’m still here.”
The Rev. Chase Peeples, 42, Overland Park
Pastor of Country Club Congregational United Church of Christ in Brookside.
“I have never faced the hostility and the judgment that young African-Americans have to deal with. My skin color has never been a barrier to me going where I want, doing what I want. I’m not inherently looked at with suspicion. So as a white father to two biracial kids I feel ill-prepared to have the talk with my kids who are beginning now to have the discussion — hang onto your receipt when you buy something in a store, don’t walk around (in a store) with your hands in your pocket so that no one can make assumptions about you.”
“I wish and want every white person to read the book, ‘The New Jim Crow,’ and understand how law enforcement, how the criminal justice system, how the educational system is weighted against blacks, especially black males, and understand that this is a generational, systemic problem. It did not begin overnight. It has taken decades and centuries to get to where we are and we can’t just wish it away or pretend like it doesn’t exist.”
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ABOUT THIS SERIES: In “Under Our Skin,” The Star’s features staff is talking to Kansas Citians about race, prejudice and bigotry. From Ferguson to New York to the legacy of the country’s first black president, the series aims to foster a conversation that will help us learn from one another’s experiences. If you have story ideas, please send them to David Frese at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kathy Lu at email@example.com.