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  1. Opinion

How can I be an ally to the black community? Here’s what Tampa Bay leaders say.

“Have an unpolitically correct conversation,” one local black leader recommended.

As the nation confronts its racial inequities, many of us are asking the same question: How can I help make things better? Many of us want to stretch out our hands, our hearts, our wallets to the black community. We want to do the right thing, but might be afraid of making a wrong move.

We reached out to people who are influential in the black community, whether they lead organizations, are heads of museums or inspire people online. They all said we must talk about race, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. Show your support, they said, even if it puts you at odds with some of your friends. Educate yourself to the country’s history without glossing over the hard truths about racism.

Below you will find more of what they said, edited for length and clarity.

Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP Hillsborough County Branch:

Yvette Lewis, president of NAACP Hillsborough County Branch [ALBERT FIELDS | Provided]

What are the most effective ways you’ve seen allies step up since police killed George Floyd in Minneapolis?

When people reach out to me personally, give me a call, send me an email, come into the office and have a conversation. They say, ‘I want to help, be a part of the team, want to be a part of the organization.’ That’s one of the ways that people have reached out to help.

What should people post who want to use their social media accounts to support racial equality?

The best thing to post is the truth. Talk about the systemic racism that has been going on in this country for over 100 years. Put the conversation out there. And let’s not be afraid of this conversation and where it may lead, what road it goes down. And when it gets to the end of the road, we can all take a sigh of relief because we’ve had that conversation. But acknowledge it. That’s the first thing. You have to acknowledge that it’s there. That it is here and we’re living it.

What is the best way to educate ourselves to the struggles that black people face without burdening our black friends?

I don’t mind education, because a person who is asking for education, is a person who is looking for understanding. It’s a person who is looking for a solution or results. When they say, ‘Help me understand,’ that’s an excellent conversation to have. Have an unpolitically correct conversation.

Reverend G. Gregg Murray, senior pastor of Mount Zion Primitive Baptist Church of St. Petersburg

The Rev. G. Gregg Murray [Rev. G. Gregg Murray]

What’s the most effective way to be an ally to the black community?

We need a lot of visual stuff — people coming together. The protests are visual. It’s allowing us to be seen together, black as well as white, people from all persuasions. That definitely seems to be effective almost immediately. Let us know that you’re with us. March with us.

What are some things people of any race shouldn’t do?

The looting and burning of properties.

It’s also going to take some education. We don’t just want to be heard or seen. We also want the protests to be an education to those who want to do well. They might not understand that racism is so embedded in the fabric and thinking of white America. It’s not only the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacists who are out there visibly with hate, but there’s a thing called white privilege.

What has inspired you from the protests and activism over the last week?

If you see the protests, you see people of all colors marching together. There is understanding that this is a serious issue and this is something that affects all of us. Even the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it could have never happened unless people from all backgrounds, all persuasions, got together and said, ‘It’s a We problem.'

I also see a lot of unity in the black community, which is something we sorely need. We’re encouraging one another, and we’re supporting one another. Those two things have really stood out.

Ayana Lage, Tampa-based writer and creative

Tampa blogger and influencer Ayana Lage. Courtesy of Ayana Lage.

What is the importance of sharing your actions, be it protesting or donating, on social media?

I definitely think it is important for people to share if they are protesting, donating or just standing in solidarity. Because I really think that when you share this publicly, people in your life who may not have realized that you supported this movement will see it. It might make them uncomfortable and it might lead to some hard conversations, but I’ve heard from a lot of my friends who have shared that they get a lot of feedback. Not all of it is good, but it does start productive conversations.

Is it better to focus your impact locally or towards Minneapolis?

I am not the expert, but I will say that I know the Minnesota Freedom Fund literally had to put out a statement saying they were so overwhelmed by donations that they needed people to donate elsewhere. I personally am always a fan of giving locally when you can and supporting what’s happening in your own community, especially because there’s been such an overwhelming amount of support for Minneapolis. I don’t think it can hurt to redirect it locally. Obviously, there’s no right answer. It’s whatever you want to do.

Are big nationwide social media events like #BlackOutTuesday an effective way to protest and show support online? Editor’s note: #BlackOutTuesday was a nationwide movement that encouraged people to post a black square in their social media feeds in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and to listen to black voices.

It depends on how you define effectiveness. As far as raising awareness, sure, I think it’s super effective for everyone in your (social media) feed to be posting the same thing. But once we are already aware, it’s kind of like, ‘Where do we go from here?’ It’s important to not just post something on social media and move on with your life, but to accompany that posting with action, whether that’s donating, protesting or just advocating for a better world.

Terri Lipsey Scott, head of St. Petersburg’s Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum

Terri Lipsey-Scott, Executive Director, Carter G. Woodson Museum [Rossie Newton]

As a non-black person, particularly for those of us who are white, what can we do?

I went to Facebook last week and reached out to all of my white female Facebook friends, and I made it perfectly clear to them. Because the question has come before me over and over again: What can I do?

The first things I want folks to do is think as if any of those folks who lost their lives were your relatives. What then would be your position? What did you do during the suffrage movement? You organized. You marched. You protested. What did you do during Roe v. Wade? You protested. On equal pay for women, what did you do? You organized, you protested. On those things that affected you, you knew what to do. But in this instance, it baffles me that folks suggest they don’t know what to do. I would encourage folks to do the things that they would want for themselves.

St. Petersburg's Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum [ELIZABETH DJINIS | Tampa Bay Times]

Is it better for white people to be silent right now and make room for black voices?

Now is not the time to be silent. We need your voices and your advocacy more than ever. Talk to the decision-makers for us. Because obviously they don’t hear us. Don’t just put a black box in your social media feed and remain silent, okay? Now is not the time.

Do you think something has tangibly changed with these protests?

I think the needle has been shifted in a positive direction. It has quite the way to go, but there’s a social consciousness now that’s in your face, as though Ahmaud Arbery wasn’t enough. We just saw a month ago the gunning down of this African-American male jogging in a Georgia community. That wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough that we were as African-Americans experiencing the inequity of health care. It wasn’t enough. It took this thing to really pull back the scab and reveal the wounds to the degree of its infestation. That makes it real for so many who had been ignoring it.

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