The June 9 Tuesday Talks with Tracy opened with an explanation from congressional candidate Tracy Mitrano’s political director Lori Nguyen that because of the “sobering” subject — racial injustice and inequality in America — Mitrano would not be taking questions from the audience.
“Tonight is a time for us to listen, a time for us to reflect,” Nguyen said.
Panelists were social activists Phoebe Brown, a coordinator of the Alliance of Families for Justice; Lucile Mallard, president of the Geneva chapter of the NAACP, and Georgia Verdier, president of the Elmira/Corning NAACP.
Mallard, during her self-introduction, told listeners she has been an activist since 1962 and spoke on the Geneva Community Compact and the events it has conducted in Geneva since the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Among them was a peaceful youth rally that began May 31 and concluded June 3. And on June 3, Mallard helped run another event that was attended by roughly 550 people and featured Geneva’s mayor, city manager and chief of police as speakers.
Mallard also noted that she co-founded the Geneva Community Compact after Geneva police shot William Jackson, an African-American man, and that the organization works to improve the relationships between all Geneva citizens and police.
“You know, when you do something that’s really well put together, you can toss and turn and think about how positive it was," Mallard said. "I think that’s what has happened to a lot of people in Geneva. I’ve been getting calls, emails and messages from people all across the country.”
The people who have contacted Mallard have asked her how to replicate the peacefulness of the Community Compact rallies and have told her they want to do more.
“We’ve put the message out there that we are done dying, and black lives do matter,” Mallard said. “That message was sent strong and clear.”
Verdier discussed the current movement for social change that has followed Floyd’s death and how that change requires multiple actions. And she spoke of Floyd as a “sacrificial lamb,” saying that his death has revealed that, even though America has had a black president, much still needs to be done to reach racial equality.
“There are many pieces to this puzzle,” Verdier said. “The marching and the protesting draws public attention to the injustice and all, but you need systemic change. And, until we can have some systemic change, we will be repeating the same behavior over and over.”
She added people also need to stop voting in politicians who lie and who give false promises to cause systemic change, which requires action. “Get out and vote,” she said.
Verdier said she sees change on the rise.
“I see a rainbow of young people out there saying 'enough is enough,' ” she said. “I believe America has had a wakeup call. I have never seen anything like this, and I’ve never felt anything like this.”
Verdier expressed optimism, despite the way COVID-19 has paused society. People crave contact and dialogue because of quarantining.
“I’m excited because I believe we might be headed to the promised land,” Verdier said.
Brown joined the discussion later than the other two panelists. Her organization, the Alliance of Families for Justice, works with people returning from incarceration. She talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest has affected her, mothers, privileged people and youth.
“The pandemic, for one, has been really scary,” Brown said. “What happened to George Floyd has been even scarier. This has been something that black and brown people have been fighting over for 100 or something years.”
As a mother herself, Brown said she felt sadness when she heard that Floyd’s last words were calling out for his mother.
“This is an opportunity right now for mothers, all mothers, who heard that cry can identify,” Brown said. “Maybe, like never before, it touched some women’s hearts. The piece that this man hollered for his mother, who had been gone for two years, is heart-wrenching.”
Brown said the pandemic has restricted movement for so many people, and that when privileged folk are told not to work, not leave their houses, not to go to certain places, it has made them understand what having rights denied is like.
“I think this is an opportunity right now to help young people understand how voting can play a part in their future,” Brown added.
She predicted social unrest could go one of two ways: older people could listen to the voice of young people, or they can tell youth what they need to be and do: be active and vote.
Brown helped create an organization, Monthly Meetings with the Chief, after off-duty policemen killed a young man named Sean Greenwood in Tompkins County in 2010. Within a year of the group's founding, police use of stun guns on young black men and women by police became common, she said.
So, Brown said, this is a critical time to listen to young people and create change.
Mitrano, Mallard and Verdier also discussed further actions being planned in Geneva as well as steps toward racial equality and negative behavior in protesting.
Mallard said Community Compact is planning a forum for a date still unknown so that police and youth can talk about their concerns in positive ways during separate and joint sessions.
Mitrano said she would like to help to get the word out about Community Compact’s events to “get everyone involved.”
Verdier said among steps needed to reach racial and social equality is listening to youth and cultivating their anger to use in activism.
She said youth are more likely to be listened to by their parents and other adults because they bring a new perspective. Adults are used to hearing speeches about equality from activists like herself but not from young people.
“I believe, if we work with them, they will make a difference, but they have to be disciplined, and they have to have their skills sharpened in terms of leadership,” Verdier said. “While the pot is hot, let’s keep it boiling. I’m ready, and we’re ready to keep moving with these youths, and have them channel this energy in the right direction.”
Mallard agreed with Verdier, adding older activists should not condone younger people committing violence, such as looting and burning buildings.
“I’m going to weigh in on what Lucile was saying,” Verdier responded. “I agree with her wholeheartedly that’s not the way to go. What happens with negative behavior, it has a tendency to overshadow your mission.”
Verdier also expressed concerns about the consequences of sharing negativity about police on social media platforms such as Facebook.
“There are some things you need to keep to yourself,” Verdier said. “You don’t need to make it public. You need to work to change it.”
Mitrano plans a town hall edition for her next episode of “Tuesday Talks with Tracy.”
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