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Toya Green had a message for me as we walked along El Toro Road Saturday afternoon.

I had a hard time hearing her.

And that’s been the problem with this country for more than 200 years.

We’re seeing but not perceiving; hearing but not understanding.

Green, a 31-year-old African-American woman from Buena Park and me, a 71-year-old white guy from Mission Viejo, walked side by side chatting for about 20 minutes.

Not something you see every day — especially in Lake Forest.

A protest of about 700 holding signs and chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “Say his name: GEORGE FLOYD,” and “I can’t breathe” brought us together for a short while during the hour-long march down El Toro Road from Trabuco Road to the Lake Forest Sports Park off Portola Parkway.

Her message was simple –wish I had recorded it. I had a hard time hearing because of all the chanting, honking car horns — and I don’t hear too well anyway.

Green is impressive, articulate, intelligent and polite – she called me ‘sir.’  I tried to stop her; she couldn’t help herself.

The native of Kansas City is a professor for communications at Cal State Fullerton, director of debate at the university, and she is an educator, speaker and workshop facilitator for Higher Definition Leadership & Empowerment Coaching.

Check out her creative and captivating communication skills by scrolling down and listening to this 44-second video.

Her message to me: She wants to breathe the same air I do with the same freedoms I have.

After 240 years — or 400-plus years depending on your knowledge of history and geography — of systemic, institutional, cultural and personal racism, she deserves so much more.

And, if you don’t buy into this, then for starters Google Redlining, the Barbados Slave Code of 1661, The Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, OK, or read this National Geographic story on the history of racial violence in the United States. Also, you could watch an old movie “Amazing Grace” about the long fight to abolish the British slave trade by William Wilberforce, or a newer one “Just Mercy” about Walter McMillian, a wrongly convicted death-row inmate.

There are so many more references, books, videos and TED talks on racism. Just start somewhere; the above was my start along with a background of reading “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “A Raisin in the Sun,” a play by Lorraine Hansberry and the chilling  tale of “Native Son” by Richard Wright. (These I read in the early ’70s as a college student.)

‘SILENCE IS COMPLICITY’

OK, let’s get real. This is not for African-Americans. They don’t need to hear from another old white guy.

This is for me, you, and all the other old white guys. Our silence, our inaction is complicity.

For eight minutes and 46 seconds, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin applied the full weight of his body with his knee on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.

Part of the weight on Floyd’s neck is mine and yours. It’s a horrifying image I can’t shake, yet it’s been a unifying image that is waking up America to the suffocating system of racism we embrace by doing nothing.  (“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing – Edmund Burke.”)

With the sadness of Floyd’s life lost along with Ahmad Arbury and Breanna Taylor, I believe we are waking up to all the African-American lives unjustly taken, the unjustly imprisoned, the unjustly assaulted, and all the unjust disadvantages suffered.

‘THE TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’  

Chauvin is charged with second degree murder; it should be first degree, but it will be hard to convict him of second degree murder. That’s the system, and we – you and I — need to change it.

How?

I chose to look at myself first – to pray, lament, confess and repent my indifference and historical “selective amnesia.”

Next, to listen, learn and love.

I’ll listen by reading more, hearing videos, and hearing more from African-American leaders past and present.

I’ll learn more from intentionally hanging out with those who don’t look like me and who experience America differently.

I’ll love by writing, voting, protesting, serving and donating, and engaging more with those who see only a white America. (Make America great again really means make American white again – those halcyon days of white picket fences, black and white TV — and segregation.)

I have a friend on Facebook who posted a defaced memorial for those who gave their lives in war. He commented something like this: If this doesn’t upset you, please feel free to unfriend me. I don’t support vandalism and do support our veterans, but my immediate reaction was to show the photo of the officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck and say the same thing.

But on reflection, what I really want is dialogue. Which image is worse in his mind? What about the historical destruction of African-American property? What do you want for America? What do you think African-Americans want? Can we talk and not rant on social media? With so many, I don’t think so.

‘KEEP HOPE ALIVE’

But I have hope – sadness, but hope.

Walking and talking with Toya Green Saturday, I heard frustration, but also fight — a fight to make it right. Nothing personal; but she just wants the freedom to live as you and I do.

She came with her students; she’s a teacher, a thoughtful speaker, an encourager, and a motivator. I gained so much respect in 20 minutes. (Then I Googled her and was blown away!)

Second, I saw hope in the protest; it was diverse; it was big for Lake Forest. (The city is 49.8 percent white; 22.8 percent Hispanic; 21.6 percent Asian, 1.6 percent black and three others with small percentages, according to the 2017 numbers from City-Data.com.)

The organizers were polite young people making sure folks wore masks, passing out hand sanitizer, water and snacks. They encouraged us to obey the law, not engage with any anti-protestors, and be civil. I think they were surprised by the big number of people young and old, and by so many white people.

I was, too.

In the ’60s, protestors were a minority and mostly African American. “Law and order” ruled for white people, and police ruled African Americans with Billy clubs, tear gas and dogs.

But hope came Saturday not only in Lake Forest, but also for a small town in Texas with a history of racism and mostly white people. About 150 gathered for a protest rally in Vidor, Texas, known for its KKK history.

Cities are also considering ‘8 can’t wait’ reforms for policing. We need to put police reform and budgeting on city council agendas.

Songwriter, singer Josh Garrels says it best in his song “Resistance:”

My rest is a weapon against the oppression
Of man’s obsession to control things
Look at the long line of make believe kings
And the lord of the flies wants you to kiss his ring
Follow new rules with invisible strings
And become a puppet in a diabolical scheme
How do good men become a part of the regime?
They don’t believe in resistance.

Paul Danison is a longtime journalist working almost 23 years as an editor at the Orange County Register. He lives with his wife Nickie in Mission Viejo. This was his first protest march. As a journalist, he has only worked on covering them in the past.

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