MINT HILL, NC – On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African American man, was killed by police during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the wake of his death protests have erupted across the country, calling for police reform and legislation to address remaining vestiges of racial inequality. On Wednesday, June 10th, hundreds of people gathered in front of Mint Hill’s Town Hall to raise awareness of racial inequality, and how it affects everyone, regardless of skin color.
Organized by Mint Hill native, and Independence alumna, Arden Boyle, the protests aim to unite the community in support of a cause that Boyle believes has been silenced for far too long.
The main event of the evening was a series of short, inspirational speeches, from local black residents and leaders. After just four minutes of silence, Independence High School Assistant Principal Quincy Simmons, kicked off the evening with a poignant reflection on those uncomfortable minutes, pointing out that they were less than half the time a white officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck, while he was handcuffed face down in the street.
Independence alumnus, and professional NFL, and XFL football player, Jack Tocho, discussed the realities of growing up black in Mint Hill, pushing the audience to confront the idea that just because you don’t see something happening in your community, doesn’t mean it isn’t real for others. Fellow Independence alumna, Jonese Austin reinforced Tocho’s ideas, talking about what it means to be black in the U.S. in the year 2020. Reverend Ladale Benson closed out the evening speeches with reflections on peace, love, humility, and compassion.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] Arden, you put this event together tonight. Tell me about why we were here.
[Arden Boyle] If I can summarize it in one word, I’ve been saying solidarity, to unite this community. I’m from Mint Hill, born and raised, and a community that’s historically conservative. I’d love to bring a new viewpoint to the table. It’s 2020, and black lives and black voices have been silenced for over 400 years. And finally, we’re here to unite, step back and listen, as a minority, and hear what black people have to say right now.
[Brad Simmons] I would hope that this would jumpstart a conversation. Maybe a conversation in the home this Sunday afternoon as the family’s sitting down at the dinner table. They can talk about it amongst themselves. Maybe in the schools, when schools go back, that they can talk to their school mates about it. Even in the business world, maybe some businessman will come in, and just because of this event this evening will sit down with his staff and say, what can I do, to do a better job? So I’m looking for the conversation to start in the community, off of social media, where it seems to be so crazy, be able to sit across the table from each other, share a cup of coffee, and talk it out, and find out what each of his thinks.
[Jack Tacho] Racism is something that still exists in our country, and the worst part about it is people try to deny that truth. You know, as a minority, we fought for human rights, we fought for civil rights, and now we’re fighting for equal rights. There’s a lot of ways to deal with racism, but the first way we want to start is through police brutality and the unjust killing of African Americans.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] Quincy, you spoke to the crowd here tonight. What was your message for everyone here tonight?
[Quincy Simmons] My message is basically taking a stand and understanding the importance of education, understanding our history, and making sure our children get a good grasp of this system, and they’re able to understand why we need change. So that’s the importance of education, making sure that they understand their history, and why we need this change.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] Mayor Simmons, why is it important that you and the Town Commissioners were here at this event tonight?
[Brad Simmons] Well, I feel it’s important for us to be advocates for the citizens so that they can speak their mind on what’s going on in the world today, and so that they can participate in their First Amendment rights. So we want to be here for the citizens to make sure they can speak their mind, and that we can put on a safe event.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] What do you hope will come of tonight?
[Arden Boyle] First and foremost, awareness. That’s the first step in these things. You have to make sure people are aware, and that black voices are heard, and that white people are listening for once. And once awareness starts, you have to start talking. Lil’ Wayne even made a tweet or something. All right, you wore the T-shirt, what’s next? He’s right, after you’ve talked about it, after you’ve worn the shirt and went to the rally, what can I do to help? Can I sign up at a local school that needs assistance? Can you donate something that they need, like waters and chips, like people who donated stuff tonight? So, you have to physically do stuff.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] I’ve seen a lot of signs out here from teachers. Why do you think it’s important that you, Assistant Principal at Independence, and other educators are out here supporting this class tonight?
[Quincy Simmons] Look, these are our students. You know, it’s important for all educators to support all our students, because this is how we can listen to them, and we can hear them because we are the ones that they look up to. They’re the ones that need us to explain to them why change is important. You know, why history is important, and why is education important? And so when these children see our teachers, our educators out here supporting them, I just think that it just, it allows them to be able to see us, you know, giving back to them, and showing them support.
[Jordan Frederick] I think every educator needs to be out here at these protests and standing up for our students. Just ’cause I teach English, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I teach. I’m an educator, I’m trying to help the next generation make this world a better place, and I can’t do that unless I’m educated, and I’m standing up and being a model for my students.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] What do you say to people who respond to black lives matter with all lives matter?
[Arden Boyle] All lives can’t matter until black lives do. Black lives matter isn’t an anti-white movement. It isn’t an anti-brown movement, what have you. It’s to bring awareness to the fact that this is what matters now.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] Chief Ledford, why do you think it’s important that you and your fellow officers were out here with this crowd tonight?
[Tim Ledford] As police officers, we take a solemn oath, when we’re sworn into office, that we will uphold the Constitution of the United States. The First Amendment is very near and dear to all police officers, and they want to give the opportunity for every American citizen to express their need, to bring any subject to the forefront, and get people to understand and listen to what their concerns are.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] I’ve seen some negative feedback on social media. A lot of people saying, “We don’t have this problem here.” What would you say to those people?
[Arden Boyle] I actually don’t know if I would even agree with that, as a Mint Hill native. Even when you don’t have a problem, you still should be active and voicing the problems of others. As Jack Tocho was saying earlier, you still see segregation. When I was at Independence, one of the most diverse high schools in CMS, when I went there, at least, you still saw it in the lunchroom. The black kids still sit at one table, the white kids still sit at one table, and if you see it in your high school, that’s still a part of the issue. Even though there might not be crazy violence in Mint Hill, advocating for what’s right, is a part of the solution.
[Brad Simmons] I think a lot of times it’s not a problem for those people ’cause they haven’t experienced it, and this evening’s event showed that a lot of people have had experiences that we haven’t had, and those people live in our community. So I think it’s important that we get together in an event like this, be able to talk back across the table, one-to-one, find out what you’ve experienced, ’cause if I’ve never experienced that, then I don’t know that it’s taking place in Mint Hill.
[Jonese Austin] People tend to like to think of their community as this perfect place, and that sometimes we have to realize that, that’s not always the case, and being willing to challenge ourselves. But also me speaking within this community, I want you to be open to hearing me, and not push you too much.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] You are pursuing your Master’s of Divinity right now. Why do you feel it’s important that religious leaders take a stand on this issue?
[Jonese Austin] Because oftentimes religious leaders don’t take a stand, but when we read the biblical texts, and we truly understand the text, we realize that there’s so much in there that would require us to take a stance.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] There were a lot of voices on social media, opposed to this event tonight saying, “I support the police.” What do you say to those people?
[Tim Ledford] Those people, we appreciate your support wholeheartedly. As police officers, we’re neutral third-party observers. We don’t want to take a side.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] Mayor Simmons, are you still doing office hours that the public is welcome to call or come in?
[Brad Simmons] Absolutely, right now we’ve still got Town Hall closed, so they need to call either on the telephone, or make an appointment during the office hours, that I can let ’em in the door, but we’re still having office hours from one o’clock to four o’clock every Tuesday, and Thursday mornings from nine to 12. Also, everybody has my cell phone number in town, which is how most people are reaching me. So if you call me on my cell phone, I’ll be glad to meet you at Town Hall. I’d love to start some of those discussions we just talked about in my office at Town Hall.
[Mary Beth Foster, Reporting] A lot of people seem to have the mistaken idea that tonight was an anti-police rally. What do you say to those people?
[Arden Boyle] So I addressed at the beginning, I don’t believe that all cops are bad, all cops are bastards, that hashtag, I don’t stand for it. Multiple people who were speaking, they said all didn’t stand for it, and most people that came tonight, I believe don’t stand for it. So that’s not what we wanted to bring tonight. If somebody brought that attitude tonight, that was not our goal. So that was someone who came with an original, maybe not original, but an idea already in their head. So tonight was about peace and uniting our community all as one.