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Black Lives Matter

Solon grads share their experiences with racism Over 100 march through Solon

SOLON– Black Lives Matter to white people, too.
And that is making a difference, according to a few Solon High School (SHS) graduates.
SHS alumni led a throng of about 150 people on a march through Solon Sunday, June 14, demanding justice for black Americans.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) supporters shouted the names of the most recent victims in America’s race war as they walked from the SHS parking lot to the bandstand downtown.
Leading the crowd were Solon graduates Ainslee Eastman, Cate Neumann, Sydney Lawson and Ellie Hawkins, and 17-year-old Quincy Jagnow of North Liberty.
Eastman and Neumann shared their experiences growing up in the area, warning Solon residents how the town’s lack of diversity feeds stereotyping, and challenging them to use their white privilege to affect change.
Speeches at the bandstand were followed by the protestors kneeling for eight minutes and 46 seconds, to mark the time a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, resulting in his death.
Lawson, one of the principal organizers, said she was frustrated at some of the negative comments she was getting for posting positive BLM content online, especially Facebook.
“I wanted to respond in a constructive way,” she said.
A friend gave her the idea of organizing a protest.
“I know a lot of people support BLM in Solon, so I wanted to give them the opportunity to show that,” she explained at the high school before the march. “I’m just happy people are coming out and supporting. I hope it’s a collaborative, constructive, positive experience for everyone and I hope everyone opens their ears and learns a little.”
For Eastman, a 2016 graduate, it was the first time speaking publicly about her time growing up as black girl in Solon.
She thanked the crowd for showing up, indicating it was a much bigger turnout than expected.
“Watching the amount of people from Solon speaking out on social media on the right side of things was absolutely astounding to me,” she said to cheers.
Eastman asked the mostly-white crowd to try not to be defensive, but use her comments as an opportunity to learn and grow.
The movement for racial equity has been ongoing for years, she said, but the involvement of white people is bringing about national change.
Eastman wanted to talk about Solon in particular.
“This town does have a real problem with racism,” she warned. “Nobody wants to talk about it and nobody wants to admit it.
“Not talking about it is why we still have the problem.”
It’s hard to tell it’s real here, she said, because there’s not a lot of diversity and residents of color don’t speak up.
People assumed she was going to play basketball, that she knew how to rap or beat-box, and that she couldn’t swim.
“People said these things to my face.”
It made her uncomfortable, but the thing that singled her out and made her most self-conscious was her naturally curly hair.
When she first came to Solon, she would wear it natural, but would get so many comments about it she ended up flat-ironing her hair after her first year.
Once a week on Saturdays, when most kids her age were out doing other things, her mom spent eight hours straightening her hair.
“Just so I could look like everybody else,” she noted.
Once when her mother didn’t have time to do her hair, Eastman skipped school the next day rather than face the comments that made her feel so different.
“I only have half the battle. I’m only half-black,” she said. “Imagine what it’s like being a black man in America.”
About a year ago, her uncle’s car broke down and he sat on the corner waiting for AAA to arrive, Eastman said. A neighbor called the police and reported armed gang activity.
“So what do you think happened?” she asked. “The police showed up, very aggressively, because they thought he was a gangster with a gun, just because his car broke down.”
Every day, she worries about her brother living in Pittsburgh, Pa, being in the wrong place in the wrong time.
“And unfortunately, it’s way too common for that to happen in this country,” she stated.
It was only after she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently resides, that she saw people of color allowed to be themselves, and realized how much of her own identity had been suppressed while living in Solon.
“It is real. It’s something that happens,” she said. “You don’t hear it about it because nobody talks about it, but it happens.”
Eastman asked the crowd to take the first step by accepting responsibility, acknowledging the subtle racism due to the town’s lack of diversity and holding others accountable.
“You have to do it for me, because who else is going to do it?”
Cate Neumann, also a 2016 grad, recalled growing up side by side with Eastman without understanding the pain she felt.
She remembered thinking Eastman was being dramatic when her mom couldn’t straighten her hair, but recalled her saying “I can’t be black here. I don’t know how to be black here.”
“I want you to understand, that I had a first-hand experience of watching my sister broken down by repression that’s been around for 450 years,” Neumann said. “Repression that’s very much alive in this country, repression that’s very much alive in this town.”
White people may have worked for what they have, she said, but black people have to work harder.
Neumann recited examples of privileges that are taken for granted by white people. White privilege is being able to protest without fear, looking at state and federal government and seeing mostly white leaders, or getting pulled over for speeding and only worrying about a fine, she said.
“We don’t think about becoming a victim of police brutality,” she said. “It’s not something we have to think about.”
Black people can abide by every single traffic law, and still be pulled over for “driving while black.”
“Actually fearing that your life might end at this traffic stop by these cops and that your children will have to grow up without their mom, their dad (or) their family’s not going to have their brother or sister anymore. We don’t have to think about that,” she said. “White privilege is the fact that we can’t comprehend what that fear is, what that anger is, that pain is.”
Neumann invoked her religion, noting God created everyone in His image and that Jesus taught love and acceptance, dying on a cross for all people.
“He didn’t just do it for white people,” she said. “He did it for everyone. And that includes George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and every other person murdered by prejudice and racism.”
She called on those present to move like Jesus and fearlessly stand up to demand what is right. Be uncomfortable, do the hard things. Educate yourself, speak up.
“We are created for times such as this,” Neumann said. “I will use my privilege to stand up, to speak out. I will use my privilege to fight for every single black woman and man in America. I will listen to what the Bible says and be a voice for those who don’t have one.”
Quincy Jagnow, of North Liberty, also followed his Christian faith in looking for solutions to America’s racial unrest.
“I came out today to express myself and my experience as a black man,” he said into the microphone on the bandstand.
Growing up, he’s been pulled over by police officers in his middle-income neighborhood and asked why he was there and whether he lived nearby.
It’s something the white community doesn’t really know about, he said.
What does progress look like for the black community, Jagnow asked, when the people on the top have the power to change, but instead profit and benefit from the discrimination of black men and women?
He turned to his Bible.
A brief description of King David calls the ruler a dark, handsome man, Jagnow said. “When you think dark, what color is that? That’s black.”
Jesus is described in Revelations as having bronze feet, he continued. “What color is that? Black, right?”
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land, God provided rules for living in peace, Jagnow added: disobey my rules, and a host of horrible things will happen.
Your sons and daughter taken away as slaves, and you will be powerless to help them, he said, citing the Book of Deuteronomy. A foreign nation will oppress you and drive you mad.
And what is insanity but trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, he asked.
“We’ve been protesting for decades,” Jagnow said. “We’ve been doing this. Always expecting a different result.”
The solution, he said, is return to the Lord.
“My black brothers and sisters, all over the place, the solution is return to God.”
Love your neighbor as yourself, and that includes your white counterparts.
“We fall under one category: child of God,” he said.
Jagnow addressed a crowd gathered across the street in front of the Solon American Legion, where a line of motorcycles was parked outside with riders standing near the entrance.
“As a black man, I love you,” Jagnow called out, inviting a representative to come over for a hug.
“I don’t care if you support Trump, I don’t care if you’re a police officer,” Jagnow said. “I love you. Period. That’s it. So know that.”
He closed with a prayer, thanking God for those gathered, the food on their table, the clothes on their backs and the air in their lungs; and asked for the community to be moved in His presence.
“We need you so bad. In this country, in this state, in this community, Solon, North Liberty this whole area, we all need you everywhere,” he concluded.
As his speech concluded, a man decked in motorcycle gear approached the bandstand and wrapped his arms around Jagnow while the crowd erupted in applause.