Love and hate in America. Brad Byrd gets perspective from a young leader in Evansville. Why are we still struggling with race relations in this country?
Brad Byrd: Welcome to In-Depth: We begin tonight with the words of a former president: “for in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
The words of JFK two months before he was assassinated. He was talking about world peace, but perhaps we should look inside our own country today. Are we a nation divided in this era we now live?
Joining me tonight is Courtney Johnson, Entrepreneur and founder of Young & Established, Inc.
This is a candid conversation about the state of our society.
Courtney, you’re a young man, how do you both view relations with people in this country especially with social media, especially with the news events that have been happening in the past couple of years?
Courtney Johnson: It’s been pretty bad to see some of the things I have seen the past couple of years and to be honest, I think we’re moving backwards, instead of forwards. But it’s kind of scary with some of the things we’ve seen. And hopefully, things will change soon.
Brad Byrd: 5 years ago, we were in this studio and you were talking about Ferguson, MO, just outside of St. Louis, and you went there right after the riots there following an officer-involved shooting. How did that change your life? Did that open your eyes?
Courtney Johnson: It did. I told you when I got back and we did our interview, to see the comments and some of the things people were saying, it blew my mind. I remember being with my mother and I was excited for our interview. I think that was my first time being interviewed by you. And then just to see some of the comments – racist comments – and things people were calling me – for going to Ferguson. And what I basically did was go to support because I felt like that could have been me or anybody in that situation. We didn’t go to loot or any of that. We went to support what we thought was right. I didn’t expect to get that response from people right here in Evansville, Indiana.
Brad Byrd: And you work with kids, and adults. And I know you have communication with older adults. Reverend Gerald Arnold was scheduled to be here tonight, but he had an emergency, involving one of the families of his congregation. And he couldn’t join us, but we’re hoping to get him on later this week. What are people telling you, especially those kids, when they see some of this happening?
Courtney Johnson: They ask a lot of questions. They’re curious. And sometimes it’s hard to explain some of these things that take place in our country today. Because this is stuff I’ve learned about in school. Now, to see these things happening again, and it’s kind of hard to explain to these kids some of the hatred and some of the things that they see. But we do our best.
Brad Byrd: Charlottesville in 2017. We thought we had gotten past that type of clash and confrontation, but obviously we had not. When you saw that, what went through your mind?
Courtney Johnson: It was scary to watch. To see something like that, somebody actually drove through a crowd trying to harm people. It was definitely hard to watch. I actually seen it on social media before I seen it on the news. As you see now, it’s hard to watch. These people are just protesting. For him to just drive through that crowd to hurt people – it’s scary.
Brad Byrd: For people in my generation, it was somewhat a sense of déjà vu. Let’s turn back the clock now, more than 50 years ago, the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, who preached nonviolence, but there was violence in the 1960s and many leaders, both white and black, suffered greatly to push the cause of civil rights for all people. And how did that have an impact on you as a kid? The Civil Rights Movement and the 1960s.
Johnson: It had a huge impact. As we talked about before, I’m a huge Muhammad Ali fan and I think that plays a huge part in some of the things that I do today. He believed in what he believed in. He didn’t care whether people agreed with him or not and that’s kind of the same situation…not the same situation, but when I went to Ferguson I didn’t really care about how people felt. I felt like I was doing the right thing and that’s the only thing that I feel is important. If I feel it’s right, I’m definitely going to do it. But, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. There’s so many different names that you can name. I don’t know who that leader is today, who that person is that can help with some of these things but there’s a lot of people that are stepping up to make sure we push positivity and bring people together.
Brad Byrd: I want to read you this statement now. “I understand that the work I do is much bigger than me and it’s one of my many life goals to do everything in my power to make the world a better place one community at a time.” Those are your words.
Johnson: Yes sir.
Brad Byrd: And, you know, I asked you in the newsroom, but I’m not going to put you on the spot or what have you but, have you thought about getting into politics? There have been those who say it’s an honorable adventure to this very day. A lot of people are sickened by it, but what do you think?
Johnson: Right now, I really don’t know. I don’t want to say no, and I don’t want to say yes. But, I’m excited about the election that’s coming up. Of course, I want people to get out there and vote for Alex Burton, Ben Trockman. I don’t if I can name some names, but there’s a lot of great people that I feel like are going to push Evansville in the right direction. And I’m excited to get out there and see.
Brad Byrd: Very briefly, Young and Established Inc. What do you do with that?
Johnson: We’re a non-profit. We just want to get people involved in the community to make a difference. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m big on faith. Like I told you before, I didn’t know that I’d be in this position. In six years now that we’ve been able to have a huge impact in our community and make a difference. We continue to grow every year. I know we made the announcement about our center. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that happens because our kids need it, our community needs it.
Brad Byrd: Courtney Johnson Thank you for being here tonight.
Courtney Johnson: Thank you for having me.
(This story was originally published on July 15, 2019)