Brian Hamilton: What are we fighting for and against? (VIDEO)
Nearly 9 minutes of silence sent us back to that sickening scene, with hundreds on knee along South Auburn Street during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Grass Valley.
The comments posted by fellow community members to the live online footage before, during and after serve a painful reminder how much farther we have to go in this march through injustice.
Along with claims protestors were bused in from San Francisco and predictions the peaceful demonstration would turn violent, came questions about the women with the bullhorn in hand and some saw as out-of-town organizers.
“This is my town; get out.”
“Too organized to be ran by a local.”
“Anyone know the lady leading this? Is she from here?”
“None of them look familiar; are they even from Grass Valley.”
Since you asked, meet Ana Mendez Mora.
But some of you already know her, because she’s not exactly a newcomer to Nevada County, which is why she was surprised some suggested she was from “somewhere else.”
“Born and raised here,” she said. “This my home. I love this city, this environment and this community. It’s a little hurtful (to hear that), because I’ve lived here. I mean, it’s been 20 years in the making.
“I think it’s more shocking … I mean, what do you expect? A young woman of color to not speak out against this in her own community?”
‘I DIDN’T LIKE BEING BROWN’
Then again, Ana said she’d never before stepped up to speak out. In fact, for much of her 20-something years of life, she’s sought just the opposite of the spotlight.
Back at Hennessy Elementary School, she didn’t feel different than anyone else. But by the time she was a teen, while dealing with the insecurities of adolescence, things changed at Lyman Gilmore Middle School.
She noticed there weren’t many classmates who looked like her.
“Dang, I am like the only brown kid here,” she said. “It wasn’t till that time that race was even thing to me, noticing how different colored skin is treated differently.
“That’s when I started to hate my skin and I felt like an outsider … I didn’t like being brown.”
An “outsider” in her hometown. That’s heartbreaking to hear. But again, not exactly surprising. Our demographics don’t put much diversity on display, which would often lead to Ana being a focal point in discussions on race, particularly at Nevada Union High School. The lack of diversity didn’t lend enough support to feel safe in sharing her perspective.
“It wasn’t an open and honest conversation as now,” she said, now determined to not miss the opportunity to be heard.
“I just feel like when it comes to this matter, I can’t let it — my anxiety — overcome me to not help people,” she said. “I won’t let people or my anxiety overtake me when it comes to seeking justice.
“I’m not going to stay silent and I’m not going let our community stay silent either.”
NOT ANCIENT HISTORY
Our community would do well to listen, particularly to the perspectives of people of color that are largely missing from our discussions. Some of us suggest such talk only further divides us along racial lines, that racism is best left to history and that we’ve progressed beyond — after all we did elect a black president, twice.
But it was this year, 2020, when a black Bear River basketball coach, the late Ralph Lewis, left the court of a high school basketball game to find the N-word scrawled across the back window of his car.
It was early June, when a man driving a truck threw white supremacist and anti-black propaganda at protesters during a demonstration. The images included swastikas, racial slurs and racist caricatures of black people.
It was also last month that a photo emerged on social media of five young men — all Bear River and Nevada Union high school graduates — making Nazi salute signs, wearing Ku Klux Klan type of hoods.
And just over the weekend, reports emerged that a member of the Grass Valley Historical Commission displayed multiple Confederate flags along Mill Street over the Fourth of July weekend.
This isn’t about history. It’s about now. It’s about our community.
That’s why we’ve covered these stories, not to inflame but to inform and help people hear voices often not heard, until now. How safe should people feel to speak up or to engage with their community when such a hateful mindset continues to surface, right here and right now?
How welcome should people of color feel when their own community casts them as outsiders for peacefully demonstrating to denounce the murder of a black man in broad daylight on the streets of Minneapolis by officers sworn to protect and serve?
What are we against when we deride these demonstrations? What sides are there actually to be taken?
After all, protesting police brutality, renouncing racism and supporting law enforcement are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive stances.
Rochelle Bryant was looking for a bite to eat on Brunswick Road while on break, when the Bakersfield health-care worker was overcome with emotion as she came across a Black Lives Matter protest at the Sutton Way intersection.
“I had no idea you guys were protesting,” she said, choking back tears and collecting herself behind a surgical mask, as chants of “No justice, no peace” were shouted by demonstrators. “It touches my heart. It really does.
“There is a change. It has changed. Having a white mother and a black father, it’s been hard growing up. But this right here shows me it has changed. It’s changing.”
Ana Mendez Mora said she was heartened to see Bryant so moved by the support shown by the protest.
“It made me emotional,” Mendez Mora said. “I didn’t expect it affect someone like that. If I can inspire someone, make someone feel good, even for 30 minutes, it makes my day.”
She hopes to inspire more people through the protests, marches and vigils she’s helped organize, though she’s already plenty busy working as a full-time waitress and as a full-time student at Sierra College. She makes the time, because it’s so important, she said. After all, it was another Grass Valley demonstration a few years back — known as the Love Walk — to support a local family after another racist incident that first spurred her to action.
“When Imani Walker was attacked by racial slurs (in downtown Grass Valley) and no bystanders said anything, it was like ‘Dang, our community let this kid down … it’s his home. If that was me, I’d feel alone in this world.’ So I went to the Love Walk and saw Jamal Walker (Imani’s father and co-founder of Creating Communities Beyond Bias) talk with elders in the community and ask ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
To help answer that question for herself, and also set aside anxiety over speaking out, Mendez Mora is studying political science and said she now has aspirations of running for office.
“Anything to help our community is a dream,” she said. “It’s cheesy, I know, but I just want to help people and make sure we’re all good.”
Among those she wants to help are those of us who question her motives, her identity and her hometown in her advocacy efforts, all so she better understands what is being argued against with such opposition.
“If I had an answer to that, life would be a lot easier,” she said. “In all honesty, I don’t understand. Because we’re fighting for justice … there are people dying at hands of people who are supposed to protect them. I don’t understand what people are against. It’s just a human rights issue.
“I want our community to be a more cohesive unified unit,” she said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at email@example.com or 530-477-4249.
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