PONTOTOC • A Friday evening panel about race at 7South will hopefully be the start of future conversations on how people can learn and grow in the community.
7South owner Angie Garrett organized “Uncomfortable Conversations about Race Relations” July 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. in response to the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota when a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, and local reactions to an organized Teenagers Against Violence Protest last month.
“The George Floyd (death), like for so many people, jarred me,” Garrett said. “... There was something so blatant, in the length of time that (officer) sat there with his hands in his pockets, apparently confident that there would be no consequences ... there was something about that part of it that was very disturbing to me, and it just motivated me to try to figure out what, as a white person, I can do.”
When Garrett saw members in the community making veiled threats in response to the protests, she saw it as an intimidation tactic to try to silence protesting. She chose to host an event where people with motives to heal race relations could get together and ask each other questions.
Panelists included Rex Harsin, an Oxford filmmaker; Alyssa Lipsey, a Pontotoc native and Olive Branch High School educator; Charles Moore, co-founder and administrator of LifeCulture Ministry in Tupelo and administrator of Showers of Love; and Sherry Horton, a minister at First Presbyterian Church in Pontotoc. Garrett served as moderator and based the format of the event on the YouTube show “Uncomfortable Converstions with a Black Man” by former NFL football player and sports broadcaster Emmanuel Acho. For the event, panelists were asked to prepare questions for other panelists.
Approximately 50 people attended the discussion at 7South. Masks were required. Some takeaways included honestly owning and recognizing that racism can be taught intuitively, and the role racism plays in an overall power structure.
Garrett said it was important to host the discussion as part of her sense of responsibility as a Christian and as a recovered addict who experienced what it was like being treated like a second rate citizen because of her addiction. She said through her walk with Christ, she has learned that “Christ breaks my heart for the same things that break his heart,” and that “this happens to be one of those things.” She mentioned how people often will use phrases such as “they shouldn’t have been doing something wrong,” “if they hadn’t been in that position,” or “hadn’t resisted,” to give themselves permission not to feel empathy for Black victims of police brutality.
“When it came to George Floyd being murdered, you can no longer say that. It bursts through all of those little phrases of denial we use to tell ourselves it’s OK to look the other way,” Garrett said.
Though Garrett feels she doesn’t know what she is doing, she believes it is important for the white community to stand up and be allies to Black people in addressing power structures. She cites the momentum from seeing the state flag come down as proof of the power of addressing power structures; she and others felt a lot of what pushed the flag finally being changed were institutions such as the NCAA and SEC threatening to take away playoffs and financial opportunities unless the flag changed.
Garrett believes what she is doing is something all churches should be doing to help create lasting change within their own communities. She wants to use 7South as a safe space for everyone, especially kids. In the two years she has been open, she has learned that being kind and accepting encourages people to open up. She modeled 7South to be a place for diversity and inclusion for everyone, including LGBT, Black and non-Christian people.
She hopes to host future conversations at least once a month, but due to COVID-19 cases rising, she is waiting to schedule specific days. Future topics include a presentation on immigration and some community education about addiction. She encourages anyone with any kind of public education or expertise that can benefit the community to contact her about helping create an event. People can call the store at 662-200-2436 and leave a message for Angie or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We’re so divided and we’re so polarized in our country right now that it seems like people aren’t capable of having a hard conversation without it going south, and one of my hopes was that we could prove that is not true,” Garrett said. “... My hope is that if we do this enough times and there’s no brawl, and maybe people can begin to learn from each other, that we can start to affect change in a positive way.”