Call for courage, unity

Margaret Allen
Russell resident Charles Law, center, talks with New Orleans native Danzel Major, left, of Hays, and FHSU student Bill Oyet, right, of Hays, at the Hays Juneteenth event in Hays Municipal Park on Friday evening.

In the shady shelter house at Hays Municipal Park on Friday evening, Charles Law’s voice boomed from the microphone, reaching the big gathering of people at picnic tables and in folding chairs on the grassy lawn.

“Stand up if you can,” the Russell resident asked them. “I want you to say exactly what I say.”

“Look at your neighbor,” Law directed everyone, “and say ‘neighbor.’ ”

“Neighbor,” the timid crowd repeated.

“Naw,” he laughed, “you ain’t saying it loud enough, I need it louder than that. Say ‘neighbor.’ ”

“Neighbor!” shouted kids and others.

“I love you,” Law led.

“I love you,” the voices came back.

“No matter what your skin color is,” said Law.

“No matter what your skin color is,” the people repeated.

“I love you,” he repeated again.

“I love you,” answered the crowd, gathered at what was probably the first-ever Juneteenth celebration in Hays.

“We need people to stand up,” said Law, an organizer in recent weeks of Russell’s Black Lives Matter events.

Referencing George Floyd’s death and racial inequality, Law said “The world is tired of it. All races are tired of it. People on the other side of the world are tired of it.”

Events of recent weeks have signaled change, he indicated.

“But some people are scared to stand up,” Law said, “they’re worried about what their friends think.”

Pointing to Hunter Brown, of Russell, sitting at a picnic table, Law told how the two met.

“That man right there was against Black people 10 years ago,” Law said, calling Brown his friend. “But he was the first man who came, to hit me on Facebook, when I was going to throw the protest in Russell, Kansas. If he can change, everybody can change.”

Law was one of eight speakers at the event, which focused partly on Texas’ Juneteenth and its importance in Black history, as well as the speakers’ experiences.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Law asked. To which people softly replied, “Amen.”

Friday’s event in the city park also had a voter registration table. It was organized by Anniston Weber, Jennifer Harmon, Anna Towns and Rebecca Stegman, four young local women who have also hosted protests.

Sponsors included Eber Phelps, John T. Bird, Janis Lee, Everett Robert and John Moravek.

“Let’s break down these chains, those walls, and come together,” said Vanessa Dinkel, who spoke about her experiences as a biracial Black and white woman, and those of her children, who are Black.

It’s tough, she said, recalling when her children have come home from school crying, and white parents dismissing their kids’ behaviors as jokes.

“One child told my son, you must have been burnt as a baby,” she said. “It’s not a joke and it’s not funny.”

New Orleans native Danzel Major, a graduate student in clinical psychology at Fort Hays State University, also related experiences, constantly living life with the n-word.

“I’m proud to be Black, I’m glad I am Black,” Major said. Despite legal protections, however, “we’re still in shackles. At the end of the day, Black people have always been told, ‘sit down and shut up.’ ”

There are those who want to characterize George Floyd as a bad man, to justify deadly police force.

“Every time a Black person is killed, there’s a big push to check on his history,” Major said.

Closer to home, he mentioned hurtful posts on Facebook recently, referring specifically to one from a young Ellis County businessman in reference to Black Lives Matters protesters.

The post on the man’s business page went viral, with many commenters calling him out, in response to which he deleted his comment.

The man wrote, edited here for profanity, “I woulda plugged them all if I was there with some slugs f**k those pieces of s*** jungle bunny mother f***ers.”

“I’ve seen some of the posts, where this guy called us jungle bunnies,” Major said, “And it’s interesting they actually defend that, until their money is being threatened. … Eventually he told everyone that it was the way it was taken was a mistake. But when I hear the term ‘jungle bunnies,’ there’s only one way I can take it.”

Major also addressed the notion of white privilege, which has gotten attention in recent weeks.

“White privilege doesn’t mean that you’re automatically born rich,” he said. “White privilege is a mix between confidence and opportunity. You have the confidence and the opportunity to make something great without people telling you the only reason you’re in this position is because of Affirmative Action, or someone felt sorry for you, or they had to fill a quota.”

Celebration Community Church youth pastor Nick Eiden, a white man, talked about some of his experiences.

“When I get stopped by a police officer, the only thing I worry about is what it’s going to cost me for the ticket I deserved,” Eiden said. It’s different for Black men, which he regrets, he said. “I don’t want you to have the fear that it will cost you everything.”

Eiden addressed white people in the crowd on white privilege.

“You don’t have to hate yourself, you didn’t ask for it, you don’t have to feel guilty,” Eiden said. “When we all have that privilege, it’ll be a great day.”

Like Law, Eiden asked people to stand up for what’s right.

“I believe,” he said, “there is no such thing as a bystander when it comes to racial injustice.”

For more information go to blacklivesmattercalltoaction on Facebook groups.

Hays residents Bill Oyet, left, and Melissa Coca, center, converse at the Juneteenth event in Hays Municipal Park, alongside Coca's children, Juan Coca Jr. and Leah Coca. Oyet and Coca realized Friday evening in talking that they are both students in the Robbins College of Business at Fort Hays State University. Coca's children, Juan Coca Jr. and Leah Coca.