By JEFF CLEMETSON | Mission Times Courier
Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked nationwide protests led by Black Lives Matter, Del Cerro resident Grace Hatch dealt with her emotions about watching yet another Black man killed by police by drawing Floyd’s face.
“I probably did like 25 versions with ink and marker. I had no plan, but that was something I wanted to do,” said the 19-year-old Hatch, who is currently attending UC Santa Cruz, but is back home in the community she grew up in due to coronavirus concerns and summer break.
Grace’s older brother, Morgan Hatch, saw the drawings and suggested putting them up around the neighborhood.
“By the next day, most of them were torn down,” Grace said.The incident illuminated how the community was dealing with the nationwide protests. “That just encouraged us to keep putting them up and keep pushing the conversation about it.”
The Hatch’s across-the-street neighbor Jen Coburn also became part of that push.
“I noticed that [the posters] were up in the community and I thought, ‘Right on Del Cerro for getting into the conversation,’” she said. But when Coburn learned that the posters were torn down, she took to the social media site Nextdoor to comment on the destroyed artwork.
“I took a picture of Grace’s artwork and I said, ‘I think this great. I support it. But if you don’t, make your own poster from the opposing view, there’s plenty of room on the lightpost, but don’t tear down somebody else’s work — add to the conversation. We can have a discussion with differing opinions,’” Coburn said.
That post on Nextdoor immediately sparked a discussion with over 500 comments from neighbors in Del Cerro.
“It was very lively, very productive, very messy and sometimes contentious,” Coburn said. “But that’s sometimes how it is when you’re discussing racial reconciliation. It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be smooth, but it still must happen.”
Grace Hatch also welcomed the discussion.
“People started commenting about what they thought about George Floyd, what they thought about racism in America, Black Lives Matter — all sorts of things. And some of them were incredibly hateful. Some of them were hopeful,” she said, adding that it was “nice to have the community talking about something.”
A discussion evolves
Mayisha Fruge is a Black resident in the predominantly white Del Cerro/Allied Gardens area, where she has lived for over 10 years now. Fruge said that while 90% of the interactions she has had with the community have been good over the years, 10% have been troubling because of racial stereotyping.
“They assume that because I am Black, I am poor — I’ve gotten that,” she said. “They assume that I’m living in subsidized housing.”
Fruge said her son Omar Hammond also experiences occasional stereotyping, like the time he was selling candy as part of a track team effort to fund a trip to Reno.
“One lady said to him, ‘We can just raise money since you can’t afford it,’” Fruge said.
Harsher treatment by white neighbors over the years has included being called racial epitaphs, but still Fruge insists on pointing out that the majority of her interactions with the community have been very positive.
When she first read the discussion thread on Nextdoor about Grace’s posters being torn down, Fruge said she initially didn’t want to say anything or “get in the back and forth.” But as the discussions got more vitriolic with some neighbors calling Black Lives Matter protesters “thugs” and misdirecting the issue by bringing up topics like black-on-black crime, Fruge decided to speak up.
“One lady wrote, ‘If Black lives matter, why is the leading cause of death for Black babies abortion?’ That’s when it got to a point where I said I just got to say something,” she said.
In that same discussion thread, another white neighbor shared that she was afraid of Black Lives Matter.
“That’s when I said, ‘Well, if you feel that way, we can meet.’ So we met, had an open conversation and came out both of us being educated,” Fruge said.
Fruge’s interaction also educated and inspired Grace and Morgan Hatch.
“That got us thinking, ‘Wow, we can have constructive conversations that can change people’s opinions and give people a broader perspective,” Grace said, “That’s how the idea for Del Cerro 4 Back Lives Matter started.”
A discussion organizes
Although not an official chapter of Black Lives Matter, the Del Cerro 4 BLM group has permission to use the moniker, Grace said, adding that the group was formed with the goal of “getting people together to start thinking about how to get community talking about race, talking about racism and talking about how we can improve our community to make it safer and make it more inclusive and to change.”
The first meeting of the group was just an informal gathering of about 10 neighbors putting up Grace’s posters together. The next meeting was held in the Hatch family’s backyard where over 30 neighbors sat socially distancing and watched a video produced by SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), then got into groups to discuss contemplate what each individual’s stake is in ending white supremacy.
“The question was posed by the SURJ group, intended to be very daunting and big,” Grace said. “But it’s supposed to get a read on how we tie ourselves into this process, especially since the majority of the group were white. It’s a way to get everyone involved and know it’s important to them.”
The group’s structure is very open ended and there is no formal leadership role. People join by emailing DelCerro4BLM@gmail.com, which also adds you to the group chats. A recent chat in the group was about the proposed police reform measures going on the ballot in November for the city that include citizen oversight. Other topics found in the chats include sharing resources, articles, dates of protests and other informative items.
“So there’s a lot of action steps that we’ve been putting out there but we’re still developing how we can keep going with that,” Grace said, although the focus of the group at the moment is just introducing each other and talking about ways to overcome racism. “A big thing about this ongoing racist behavior is that we don’t confront it and we don’t see it in ourselves and we don’t talk about it.”
That people are talking about racism — especially white people — has given Fruge hope that this moment in time might see real change in America.
“It feels a lot different,” she said. “I have never seen allies like this before. I’ve never seen the white women marching with signs that much. It feels totally different and I hope we can keep this momentum up. I’m just so excited to see that my neighbors are actually getting together on the Black Lives movement. I just love to see it. It makes so proud to live in that neighborhood.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.