TROY — While there was a few minutes of silence at the beginning of their gathering, Troy’s African American and biracial youth were loud and clear as they shared their stories and experiences of racism, discrimination and frustration — and called for unity and change.
The gathering was held Thursday at Richards Chapel with more than 100 people in attendance. Led by Pastor Kima Cunningham, she called upon the youth to share their stories and experiences and for those in the audience to listen to “their voices, their issues, their experiences” and to “not just make it a moment, but a movement.”
Kane Felter, and many other young people’s messages, were of the scars of racism, which he said run deep and “his community is hurt, angry and sick and tired.”
Feltner said, “I call on you Troy community to do something about it. Try to understand each other. There is more that unites than divides us … unity is the answer … none of us are better than one another. Open up your ears and your hearts before we open our mouths and our phones. Troy community, we can do this. We can do this together.”
Chief Charles Phelps said the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while in police custody made him and fellow officers angry, eroding away years of advances in racial relations.
Phelps said, “The anger we feel as police officers is that the years of hard work trying to make things better, and doing things better, has been destroyed in an instant by a bad officer.”
Phelps, who has served with Troy Police Department for 38 years, said policies have drastically changed over those years and will continue to change and evolve with the times.
“The goal is always to get better and we want to. When the time comes and the anger has passed, we welcome your input and honest communication to help us do better and be more in touch with the community,” Phelps said.
Mayor Robin Oda took excerpts from each youth’s speech and intertwined them along with her message of hope.
“Racism is a sad, abhorrent thing. It has no place in our lives, in our community or in our hearts. Make no mistake, it is a heart issue. If we can change the hearts of men, we can change our country. The discussion begins and takes place at home around the dinner table and every day activities and interactions,” she said. “All Troy residents regardless of race, creed or ethnicity deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, compassion and justice. We all want Troy to be a welcoming community and a safe, dignified place for all. We will continue to work to eliminate racial inequalities of all kinds.”
Oda then presented a proclamation to Pastor Cunningham as more youth shared their stores of racial profiling, prejudice and discrimination.
Bailey Williams, 22, asked why Oda didn’t attend the Monday’s rally. Oda said she was attending the city council meeting at the time of the event. Williams also asked why Phelps didn’t engage in dialogue with protesters on Monday. Chief Phelps was present and spoke with individuals in the crowd as well as helped direct traffic, but did not address the group as a whole on Prouty Plaza. Phelps said he had no comment to Williams’ question about his attendance.
Williams also challenged both Oda and Phelps to answer “a call of action” and presented proposed reforms for the city to put to rest “some, not all” fears his community feels in Troy. He said some of the reforms include body cameras and community oversight.
Alaura Holycross shared that she is a current student at the University of Cincinnati majoring in law enforcement and corrections studies and the crowd cheered in support. She said with two years of college, she now sees both sides of the situation, but as an American African female, she still doesn’t understand why they are being targeted.
“The reason I want to be a police officer is so I can see what’s going on first hand. I want the next generation of African American boys and girls to know that we can do anything we can put our minds to. We, as a whole, have the power to change the system that has been broken for years,” she said.