CHEVERLY – Although Cheverly Councilman Julian Ivey planned an ally training session months before the violence in Charlottesville, Va., the protest brought perfect context to the issues he sees the county facing.
On Aug. 23, Ivey, with help from one of his favorite professors from the University of Maryland (UMD), held a community forum on how to become an ally in your community and an ally for minorities. The focus of the community forum was on how best to listen to and advocate for people in the community who are being prejudiced against and how to fight “covert racism.”
“This is now several generations of these issues in these nations and its time, finally, for us to be able to come together and talk about them honesty and have a frank discussion about what we can do to try and change this for the next generation,” Ivey said.
Jonathan England is a Caucasian professor of African American history at UMD, as well as a native Prince Georgian, and when Ivey first walked into his class he thought, “you have to be kidding me.” But Ivey said the moment he started listening to England he knew his own prejudices needed to change.
“I was like, ‘how is this my African American studies professor?’ But then he opened his mouth and he started talking about the things I didn’t quite know how to articulate yet and then we had discussions about this very issue,” Ivey said. “And that’s when I realized that maybe I should check my biases as well.”
That was part of the inspiration behind the idea to hold ally training in Cheverly, with the dream to take the ally training to other cities and towns throughout the county.
During the forum, Ivey and England spoke about the strife they see in the country currently.England talked about the historical context of the United States – about slavery, civil rights, police brutality and continued, strained race relations.
Ivey said growing up in the area, he knew the community police and felt like he had a good relationship with them, but saw when he was not around his parents, who are both influential in the community, his relationship with the police changed.
“They just see me as my skin color and they view that as inherently dangerous. And I saw that on my first day of school at the University of Maryland,” Ivey said, referring to an incident where he was detained because he looked like a suspect.
That incident sparked an activism in Ivey that made him want to make a difference. He said he believed this forum was one of the first steps in addressing issues of racism and discrimination.
England said he agreed to host the training forum with Ivey because he believes that change starts at the person-to-person level and he wants to be able to help people become better allies to those in need.
“It’s really important that we learn to work together because this is our county and our communities and we need to find ways to navigate the gulf and the divide,” England said. “My activism is my teaching. I don’t really get a chance to go out and engage in protest, but I think my gift is to go out and to help people think, to learn, to educate themselves on how to be activists and how to be informed activists.”
England gave the more than 60 people gathered in the Cheverly United Methodist Church a number of tips on how to be an ally, including to forget the words “tolerate,” which he believes is rooted in self-centeredness, and “color blind,” because “colors are what make the full picture beautiful.”
Instead, he said, the goal is to build community and relationships through respect and honest communication. He said it all comes down to “being a decent person” and finding common interests to rally behind.
Some examples he gave were citizens often share interest in ensuring good transportation, schools and amenities. They can rally behind wanting a better education for their students or even against taxes.
“You have to find common interests and work together to advance your interests,” England said. “It is simple but it is complex, because relationships aren’t always easy,”
The professor gave an acronym of ally for those gathered to follow, which included A – be authentic, L – listen, L – leave your privilege, and Y – say “yes.” England said to be a good ally requires a genuine interest, real listening, recognizing privilege and entitlement, and saying yes to opportunities to advocate and be an activist.
“Privilege is something that we don’t often recognize. Privilege is real and I don’t think you have to feel guilty about privilege but you need to acknowledge privilege and then try to work against it, not take advantage of it,” he said.
What it all comes down to, both Ivey and England said, is treating everyone in the community with dignity and respect. That means breaking down barriers, debunking myths and taking the time to get to know your neighbors.
With the first forum behind him, Ivey said he wants to continue the conversation throughout the county in the hope of improving the community for the next generation.
“The stakes are too high. My parents had to pass this struggle down to me. It’s something that their parents talked to them (about) when they were growing up and it’s something that we have to talk to my younger brothers about now,” Ivey said. “I don’t want to pass this down to the next generation. I am probably going to have children and I don’t want to have the same conversations with them that my parents had with me, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to end this struggle.”