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Rob Morris
Rob Morris

Listen to Our Stories

Jul 02, 2020
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We are in the middle of an extraordinary moment in our country. Already stressed over the COVID-19 pandemic, emotions are high over the issue of racism as we prepare to celebrate Independence Day this year. Anger and frustration over the absence of justice is boiling over, spilling into our communities and rolling across social media accounts with destructive results.

That’s why we have decided to simply stop and listen to people of color from the Moore community. Five extraordinary people from our community have taken the time to share their stories. These are their words. Their pain. Their responses to that pain. And their hope for the future.

GROWING UP IN DIFFERENT WORLDS

Lorenzo WilliamsLorenzo Williams
Husband and Father
College and Professional Athlete
Head Football Coach – Westmoore High School

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I think I saw two different worlds growing up as a young black man. If you’re athletic, it gives you a different voice and a different perspective of the world. It seems like you don’t get as much blatant racism from people around you because they love you for what you can do on the field or the court. My dad was a great dude, but he just got swept up in the crack epidemic of the 80s and never really made it out of that.
So, growing up, I had coaches and uncles who took care of me. That helped, having these strong black males to look up to as I was going through junior high, high school, and college. I also had a lot of strong white males to look up to as well. My mom was a teacher, and she never let us get mad about the things that happened to us. In second grade, the first time I got called the “N-word,” my mom made it clear that this wasn’t something I needed to fight about, that it wasn’t worth it.



But I remember those things as a kid, those hurtful things people say to you. “My dad won’t let me play with you because you’re brown.” And “My dad said brown people are bad.” You’re on the playground in second grade, hearing those things during recess. And as you grow older, you just become aware that, “Here’s a situation I need to be aware of all the time.”

Still, I hung out with a lot of white and black kids playing sports, and sports does put you in a different world where people recognize you. It wasn’t until I started driving that I began to experience some of those negative things personally. It’s still strange to me because I have an aunt who’s a police officer and friends who are officers and in the military. But my aunt sat me down and told me that if I was ever pulled over by the police, then you act respectfully and carefully at all times.

The first time I ever got pulled over, I was on my way to summer pride. It was for driving 37 in a 35-mile-an-hour zone. There were several instances in college when I played football at Missouri when I was pulled over with friends. We had guns drawn on us and were handcuffed on the side of the road because we “fit the description.” That was a bad experience. It really hurt me because I’m looking at one of these officers who were around the football team and thinking, “He knows me. He knows I’m not out committing crimes.” He didn’t say anything right then, but he apologized to us later.



When I first moved into my neighborhood here, I had the police called on me twice. It was cold, and I was walking my dog with a hoodie on, and somebody called the police because they thought I was acting suspiciously. Another guy in my neighborhood dropped the “N-word” on me because my dog was barking at him.

I’ve been blessed to play college and NFL ball, but none of that is as important as my relationship with God. And that’s what led me into coaching after playing football. I had a kid sit down and start asking me questions about his dad being an alcoholic and abusing his mom, and I know exactly what he’s going through because I went through that, too. It was after that when I really started believing in God and what He put me through. Those experiences help me make a positive impact on kids today.



So, I think where we are today gives us an opportunity. If people would just sit and talk to each other. I think if white friends would just take the time to listen to their black friends, they would be mortified to hear about the things we face. And my hope is that they would then be motivated to do something, even some
small steps, to say, “Hey, I stand with you.”

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD

Sgt. Terrance ColemanSgt. Terrance Coleman
Husband and Father
19-year veteran of the Moore Police Department

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Faith, family, and hard work made up the foundation of my upbringing. I grew up in a two-parent household. My parents met at church and were married one year after my mother graduated from high school. I was born a little after their first anniversary. I also have a younger sister.

My extended family had an active role in our lives. My sister & I would visit one set of grandparents every weekend while we went to the other grandparents’ home during the week for child care, and we attended church 2 to 3 days a week. My father had eight siblings, and my mother had four siblings, so I grew up with a bunch of cousins. I am definitely a product of the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.”



Personally, I think these things helped keep me insulated until I went to college. I do remember having some of those kinds of negative racial experiences in college. But I was always raised to believe that just because those things happened, it doesn’t mean you need to react in anger. I am fortunate to have a close-knit family that instilled in me a clear sense of right and wrong, which is what being a policeman is all about. Also, growing up playing sports, I always enjoyed belonging to a team.

It was that sense of right and wrong and loving a team atmosphere that led me to join the police department. My family was concerned at first but supportive. I got my Bachelors in Criminal Justice and then joined the Moore Police Department. After serving in Moore for a time, I went back to school and completed my Masters in Criminology

After graduating from the police academy and joining my team, I remember having a few conversations out of curiosity about race, like “what’s the deal about having custom rims & tires on vehicles?” I would then explain it was the equivalent of having professionally lifted trucks with big tires and mud flaps for off-road driving. I remember having conversations with co-workers about a “play cousin” or “play aunt” or “play uncle” who was not really a relative of that person. It was a cultural thing to explain how that person was a close friend of the family. I remember responding to calls in the field where the “white reporting party” walked past me to speak with the white officer or if I was the only officer responding to their call, taking the report from the porch. At the same time, the person stood behind their closed screen door to provide me the details. Through these experiences and others, I realized how I can change perceptions through the role I play.



There’s an opportunity for change in law enforcement as well as how we see & treat each other in the world today. The United States is like an excellent tasting gumbo dish. All the ingredients...the chicken, okra, sausage, shrimp, tomato, celery, crab meat, onions, parsley, & that roux...each ingredient has its own flavor and brings a distinct taste to the party. On their own, they are delicious but served all together, they make a wonderful dish. Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, White Americans, Asian Americans, & Native Americans all have different backgrounds, but all have something to contribute to the main goal of the community. We just need to be willing to LISTEN and NOT build walls because you don’t understand why another person says this or does it differently than you. We need to acknowledge that we DO see color, and we’re NOT colorblind. I am hopeful that police reform will happen. All good officers want bad police behavior criminalized! Good officers join to serve the community...not harm it. Specifically, as a black officer, I want reform, so I won’t have to worry about my children’s safety when they go out into the world. I am hopeful that Faith and general Love for one another will encourage people to bring positive police reform as well as understanding about different cultures to the world.

CONNECTION WITH OTHERS AND CARING FOR THE COMMUNITY

LaShowan SmithLaShowan Smith
Mom
Social Worker
Field Director for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services

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I was born and raised in Rancho Cordova, California, and that’s where I went to elementary school, middle school, and high school. So, from grade school through high school, I was always in a very diverse and mixed culture of students. I’ve always been around different races. For the most part, we all understood that we had differences and faced different challenges. But it was great because I had friends from all different races. Most of the negative experiences had to do with a lack of understanding about black people and our culture.

The other thing I remember about growing up is that it seemed like I always had to push harder to be better. There was this sense that because I was black, I couldn’t get away with some of the things my other friends got away with because I would face different repercussions. Those things were always in the back of my mind. My grandmother grew up in Louisiana and moved with my mom, who is the oldest of nine siblings. They moved to Los Angeles back during the time the Black Panthers had started their neighborhood movement to help develop strong afterschool and nutritional programs so that kids could have good food and educational opportunities.

So, my grandmother was a part of those community efforts, which were also instilled in my mom. They instilled that value in me that I’m called to be heavily involved in my community and give back, to take care of those who need help. For me, I’ve always been taught that if we don’t take care of each other, then we’ll never see change. I’ve tried to instill those things in my daughter as well.

I was blessed with strong parents and mentors in my life. They taught me not just the importance of a good education, but how important it is to connect with people. They also taught me to understand the relationship between parents and their children.

About the time I was deciding where to go to college, my mother was transferred from the Air Force base in California, where she worked to Tinker Air Force base. I was blessed to have an opportunity to play basketball at Alabama A&M University, which is a historically black university. I chose to play there instead of California to be closer to my mom. After I graduated, I moved back to Oklahoma and got my Masters in Social Work at the University of Oklahoma.

I’ve always been someone who cared deeply about children and their parents. I was going to teach initially but had a hard time getting a job, so I applied with DHS. They hired me, and here I am, 15 years later, still there. I love it. I love the opportunity it gives me to serve all kinds of people from all different walks of life.

I have to be honest, there’s a part of me that was hesitant to do this interview and to tell my story because we, as black people, are sometimes fearful of speaking out. We are afraid to speak out against the 

happening on a day-to-day basis because we have families, we have jobs. It’s always in the back of my mind that my employer might be unhappy if the community misunderstands my comments.injustices 

But I hope that sharing my story helps us start having a dialogue about the oppression that has occurred for decades, particularly to black people. I understand that these are uncomfortable conversations to have, but it’s going to take a willingness to listen and to hear. I think that will help with some of the healing. I’m also hoping to see systemic policy changes because all of those things affect us on a day-to-day basis, whether it be politically, educationally, financially, or all of those things. I think that if we can make things better for us, then things will be better for everyone.

SHAPED BY A PASSION FOR SERVICE AND HARD WORK

Jonathan StillJonathan Still
Husband and Father
District Executive – Boy Scouts of America, Last Frontier Council
Member of the Oklahoma National Guard

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I spent the first few years of my life living on the north side of Oklahoma City. I remember that in that area, gang activity was very strong. We used to hear a lot of police cars going up and down my street. My mom remarried, and we moved with my stepdad to a nicer area in Midwest City. In fact, it was near the house that belonged to W.B. Atkinson, the founder of Midwest City.

I began going to school at Ridgecrest Elementary, and I guess it was in fourth grade when I first realized that I was different. I know there were other black kids at the school, but there was something about me that made me an outsider to the white kids. That difference wasn’t because I didn’t live in a nice house or I wasn’t involved in sports. There’s a saying that, “You’re too white for the black people and too black for the white people.” I was always trying to figure out where I fit in. So that’s what I wrestled with as I began to grow up and move on to junior high and high school.

It was tough in high school because I wasn’t an athlete. Midwest City police officers were very sports-focused and being an athlete meant they recognized you. I remember some kids were in cliques that were sort of gang-ish, and so because of how I looked, police officers ended up assuming that I was a part of that. My mom bought me a new pair of blue-and-gold Nike’s once, and it just so happened those colors were associated with some gang activity. So, I got lumped into that even though I had nothing to do with it.

I also remember looking for a mentor, especially a black male, that I could look up to at church and school during that time. I was very involved in my church and there were some men there, but I only saw them on Sundays. I was also in the band, but my most influential role model there was a white female. As great as she was, she couldn’t help me navigate fully on both sides of the race card.

It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I had Glen Lanham as my first black teacher. He was the wrestling coach then and now coaches at Duke University. He was someone I bonded with and could talk to. There was also Terry Evans, the head basketball coach. He really became a mentor to me. Along with those men, I had a passion for music and a desire to serve. So, as I went off to college, I joined a fraternity and then got involved in civic organizations in OKC, things outside the church, and in the community.

I was 30 when I enlisted in the National Guard. It was the concept of service and working hard that drew me to that. I love working hard and serving others, I think, because when we are all working together in the service of others, regardless of our skin color, we really are more alike than we are different.

It’s that passion for serving that also led me to work for the Boy Scouts. I first got involved because my son was a Cub Scout, and I became his den leader. Because of the work we were doing, it allowed me to eventually work for the Boy Scouts.



I really believe that the reason we have a racial problem is because we’re not practicing what we preach. We are allowing fear and anger to dominate our conversations rather than healthy communication. People are fearful of what they don’t know. My hope is that as we apply the character values from the Scouts and the National Guard, we’ll grow out of having racial problems. If we are authentic in applying those character values to our kids, we won’t have racial problems.

THE POWER OF POSITIVE IMPACT

Armand McCoyArmand McCoy
President of Trifecta Communications

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I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. For the first four years of my life, we were literally the only Black family on our block. My dad was a district superintendent for the United Methodist Church, and my mom worked in IT for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I remember that I was the only person of color in my kindergarten, but it never occurred to me that it was strange. I just knew I was different, and people were nice.

Then my dad got a new appointment, and we moved to Chatham, which is a historically black middle-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. I was lucky in that my family was upper-middle class. Because of that, I was able to go to a magnet elementary school, which was a beautiful kind of a center of academic excellence. Living and going to school in Chicago was literally being in the middle of a melting pot. Every race. Every kind of culture. I absolutely loved every minute of it.



But I also realized that society basically puts folks on a spectrum. It says that if you’re black, then you listen to this kind of music, you do these kinds of things, and you live in these kinds of spaces. If you’re white, things are different. I didn’t fit neatly on that spectrum. My parents were very strategic about how we dressed and the way we talked. I understood at a very young age, that perception is everything. I think it really hit me when I heard someone say, “You know, for a little black boy, you speak so well. You don’t speak like I see on TV.”

Then I remember seeing the news stories about James Byrd Jr. on TV as a kid, a Black man that was lynched by being dragged behind a truck by white supremacists in 1998 and thinking, “OK, that could be me.” It was also clear to me that when we traveled as a family, we were very deliberate about where we would stop at a hotel for the evening. It was always in a good-sized city because, in some smaller towns, you just didn’t know how things were going to go.

It was when we moved to Kansas City, and my dad became the president of a majority-white seminary that it hit me about the weight he had carried as a Black man. There were historically Black seminaries that had black presidents, but this was the first time a black man had been selected as the president of a predominately white seminary. Even now, he’s the first non-white male to be the senior pastor at his church in Chicago.



I think the other thing I realized during this time was that I had to be more prepared than someone who
looks different than me. I had to be smarter and more educated. I had to ready to prove those things at a moment’s notice because people were going to judge me based on the color of my skin and make assumptions. That carried on through high school as I started to drive, and I worried more than most. I remember my parents sitting my down and giving me “the talk” about how careful I had to be if a police officer pulled me over and how dangerous that situation could be for me as a young black man.

Those things were also part of my college experience at Oklahoma City University. And those things ended up playing a role in my choosing to go into advertising because I realize I can powerfully impact people. I think the average American sees something like 5,000 images a day in ads, and that affects how we perceive things and people. I believe if the full spectrum of the community is represented in ads that in a small way, walls of separation can be broken down. That has led to me becoming the president of this great company and leading a great team of people.
It has also given me the opportunity to speak to a lot of students about what I do. One of my favorites was a class of grade school kids. And after I talked to those kids, this beautiful little Black girl came up to me, probably six-years-old, and said, “You know, I’ve never seen a Black person be the president of his company.” I told her, “Well, you’ve seen one today.” And her answer is seared into my mind. She said, “I’m going to tell my mom I’m going be a president, too.” That gives me a glimmer of hope that we can and are changing lives for the future.

EIGHT THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

1. Don’t be silent about that racist joke. Silence is support.

2. Seek out a diverse group of friends. Practice real friendship and intimacy by listening when POC (person/people of color) talk about their experiences and their perspectives. They’re speaking about their pain.

3. Seek out a diverse group of friends for your kids.

4. If you have a close relationship with a young person of color, make sure he/she knows how much you love them. Love and affirm that child.

5. If there are Black children/teens in your life, contribute to their college savings plans. You can also contribute to an HBCU or to the United Negro College Fund.

6. Support Black businesses. Start by following the Oklahoma Black Business Directory on Facebook.

7. Know our American history. Watch “Roots”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Selma”, and “Just Mercy” to name a few movies.

8. Find out how slavery, the Civil War, and the Jim Crow era are being taught in your local school. Advocate that history is taught correctly and certain parts are not skipped over or barely mentioned. Advocate that many voices be used in the study of history. Is the school teaching about post-Civil War convict leasing, the parent to our current mass incarceration system? Are explorers, scientists, politicians, etc. who are POC discussed? Are male and female authors who are POC on reading lists? Are Japanese internment camps being discussed? Is history explained correctly in history books?



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