Young African American leaders share their experiences


The fear of police is real in the community, but there is optimism for positive change

VANCOUVER — Isaiah Jones can list the names of victims of police violence. He fears he could become the next. Or his dad. Or his mom.

Jalynnee McGee talks about how he holds his money in his hand when he walks into a store, to show anyone who might be watching that, yes, he is there to buy something. No need to call the cops on him.

Ahmani Williams and Jalynnee McGee, two young African American men, agreed to sit down to talk about their experiences with race and offered advice to help find solutions to race relations. Photo by Paul Valencia
Ahmani Williams and Jalynnee McGee, two young African American men, agreed to sit down to talk about their experiences with race and offered advice to help find solutions to race relations. Photo by Paul Valencia

Ahmani Williams said he is careful not to lean up against a fence, for fear that a homeowner might think he is about to jump the fence. And has explained to his white girlfriend why he is nervous at times as they take a walk.

Navon Morgan noted about how his parents had to give him “The Talk.’’ And in some African American homes, “The Talk’’ is about how a son should conduct himself when pulled over by the police to ensure the son comes home.

These are the experiences of four African American young men — young leaders — from Vancouver. They shared their experiences with Clark County Today in hopes that others will listen, will learn.

Their fears are real.

So, too, are their ideas for solutions.

There is no single, perfect answer to the problems regarding race in America, with law enforcement and race relations. The death of George Floyd has led to protests all over the world. 

In Vancouver, many want to help, including the four interviewed for this story.

Isaiah Jones used a football analogy, wishing society would use the same principles as football, to work together for a common goal. Screen grab from Paul Valencia video
Isaiah Jones used a football analogy, wishing society would use the same principles as football, to work together for a common goal. Screen grab from Paul Valencia video

Jones, a team captain for the Union Titans football team last fall, noted in a tweet how successful football teams work together, regardless of race.

“In football, nobody cares where you came from or what you look like, you’re all on the same team and you become a family. In everyday life where unity is needed most, why doesn’t that happen?” he asked in the tweet.

“We’re all fighting for the same goal, to be successful, to win together,” Jones said. “If we’re not together, then we’re not going to rise up.”

Williams, a Skyview High School senior and football player, agreed. Plus, he added, it takes a lot more than just tolerating someone who is different than you.

“You have to work with them and actually come together,” he said. “You can’t just tolerate people in your lives. Coming together with actual effort and purpose, you’ll get some pretty spectacular results.”

McGee, another Skyview senior and football player, asked a simple question:

“America is always going to be one of the most diverse places, so why don’t we all come together and work on ourselves?”
Those we spoke to about this subject said they are encouraged by who they are seeing at the protests. It is not just black people. Not just other minorities. 

“White people now are starting to understand how much different it is, the interaction with cops,” for people of color, Williams said. “It’s amazing to see how everyone has come together, all races.”

Navon Morgan, a University of Washington student from Vancouver, gave a speech last year detailing the weight of being an African American, worrying about being harassed by law enforcement. Photo by Paul Valencia
Navon Morgan, a University of Washington student from Vancouver, gave a speech last year detailing the weight of being an African American, worrying about being harassed by law enforcement. Photo by Paul Valencia

Morgan, a 2019 graduate of Fort Vancouver High School who just finished his first year at the University of Washington, said becoming an ally in this cause requires education. 

“Really ingrain yourself in understanding,” he said. 

Do not just use a hashtag.

“This is going to take a while for people to unlearn and relearn some things,” he said. “Really engage.”

Williams noted all the support for Blackout Tuesday this week on social media. But that can’t be all that one does. He hopes more people will sign petitions and/or donate to minority causes. 

This is just another new beginning in the fight against racism, a fight that has been going on for hundreds of years in America.

That is why some of the protesters have turned to looting and rioting, Jones and Williams said.

“People need to understand the riots have meaning,” Jones said. “We all know looting and violence is bad, but there’s reasoning behind the riots. For decades on decades, people have gone unheard during peaceful protests.”

He noted how former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was despised for his peaceful protest.

“The riots and the looting are tragedies,” Williams said, while pointing out that there are all walks of life who have been seen looting. It is not just black people.

“At the same time, the rioting and looting you are seeing right now, that’s the build-up of years and years and years of hurt that minorities have experienced,” Williams said. “We all have emotions, we all have breaking points. Everyone has that. Everyone builds up pain and hurt and we all explode at one point. People have reached their breaking points.”

Morgan has been working with the Black Student Union at his college. He said the last week or so has been overwhelming. The videos he has seen are taking a toll.

“I have to log off social media because I find myself shaking uncontrollably. It’s a mix of emotions,” he said. “I have to take time away for a mental health check.”

Social media can bring out the worst in people, too.

“I sit and I read and I read,” McGee said. “What have we done to put so much hate in your heart?”

Then there is the 24 hours of news coverage. Some protesters turn violent. Some police turn violent. 

Williams wants to send a message of unity. He is tired, in fact, of politicians pointing fingers at one another.

“It’s a human issue,” he said. “The left didn’t kill George Floyd. Neither did the right. Racism and prejudice killed George Floyd.”

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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