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‘We Stand Together’: Aaron Williams, Boone County Diversity Coalition

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Protests about racism and police brutality continue to spread across central Indiana. And the Boone County Diversity Coalition is looking to neighboring communities to help keep that momentum going. News 8’s Katiera Winfrey spoke with Aaron Williams, one of the organization’s founders, as we continue our series We Stand Together.

WINFREY: Based off what you’ve learned in the last few weeks, do you see that more people are open to even having that conversation? Before it seemed like there was a wall up where people didn’t want to talk about it. And now groups you never imagined would be involved in the conversation are in it. Is that something you see, too?

WILLIAMS: I’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of support because of what our country has experienced over the last several weeks and even the last couple of months. And I think a lot of folks had this mentality or perception. This isn’t going to happen here. That’s not who we are. That is not what is reflected or represented of our community. Because of that, so many individuals within those communities have come out with personal stories that talk about how they’ve been discriminated against, or instances where they feel like race was a factor. In the way they were treated in a negative manner. And once members of that community thought never here, never us, heard that, they begin to open their eyes a little bit and make them realize, wait we may actually have a problem. And I think the first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem in to being committed to changing and solving those problems.

WINFREY: And you talk about being committed to being a change agent. I’ve seen you out, on the street, out on the beat. Talk about some of the work you’ve done and what you guys have planned coming up.

WILLIAMS: So a lot of the work we’ve done, is we’ve been fortunate to meet with a lot of our elected officials because we believe the biggest means to bring about change is policy. In reforming existing policy. We’ve met fortunately with our United States senators, we’ve met with local elected mayors. We’ve met with the town council members, folks from the legislature. And our conversation to them is simple. One: Are you acknowledging that there is a problem? Two: If you do acknowledge that are you committed to using your voice, your platform, your position, as an elected official to change that. And three: Will you include us throughout the entire process of that change so that we can make sure there is meaning, reform is brought about. In addition to that, we’ve met with just the community. So whether it’s a business or a grandparent who says hey I’m helping raise my grandchildren. We’ve met with them to get an understanding of what it is they would like to see. And we don’t plan to be the voice or the leaders we just claim to be a plethora of individuals trying to end systemic racism and promote social justice. So for us we’re seeing positive change already. We are having in-depth conversations. A lot of what we are doing is behind the scenes but more than anything we wouldn’t be at the level that we are in and seeing the success without the community’s involvement.

WINFREY: Talk about the Bike to be Heard. Talk about that event.

WILLIAMS: Bike to be Heard is an event that unifies the counties of Hamilton, Boone and really all of central Indiana. To come together in a means to help end systemic racism and promote social justice. Everyone doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable going to a rally or protest or a march. But they want to show their support. They want individuals within their own community and community abroad to know hey I am a supporter. I am an ally. Often times people will say, hey is this a Black Lives Matter protest? Is that what this is about? And what we emphatically say is no. It’s not. When you look at what we’re trying to promote or what we’re trying to do we’re not making this a Black Lives Matter protest by any means. And as you look at it, the concept of Black Lives Matter is what we support. We’re not affiliated nor do we associate or endorse the organization of Black Lives Matter. And those who choose to do so, we don’t ostracize them for doing that. What this is is a way for the community to come together in conjunction with our law enforcement partners and government agencies to say, hey you’re part of this overall institution. Will you come with us and work together to fight for our efforts that we are doing? And I think that’s what people are going to be able to see on Saturday.

WINFREY: And you talk about the concept of it. I know right before we had the big protest downtown that turned a bit chaotic in the night time, that morning you met on the steps of the Statehouse with local clergy. And you got a little emotional when you were talking about the need to spark change. And the need to react in a way that’s going to do conducive. Where were those emotions coming from? Why was that such a major part for you to get out there and say something?

WILLIAMS: I think it’s emotional for a multitude of reasons. One being I’m a Black man. And literally watching, as the rest of the nation did, George Floyd’s life being taken before our eyes. And the lack of empathy from a very small few of that to not even be concerned or care that it happened. And then I look at my own individual life and being one of 10 children where my parents raised six sons in one of the roughest neighborhoods in all of Indy where I could have been a statistic. And knowing that some of my own family members and friends were downtown protesting. And I knew the hurt and pain for why they were doing it. Because it wasn’t the George Floyd incident. That was just the incident that broke — it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And seeing that and understanding the pain they were going through but also understanding that there was a lot of pain that was being inflicted on individuals and institutions that weren’t necessarily directly involved all along or even recently have tried to become an ally. And when you look at it, it hurts more than anything to see someone lose their life. And if you think there is a racial component to it as an actual factor for it, it makes you stop and think the emotion more than anything is that could be me. That could be my brother, that could be my dad. And I don’t want to see that happen. And that’s on both sides of the spectrum. Law enforcement has had a tough time the last three or four months. We acknowledge that. And we stand firmly against police brutality and misconduct. But in like manner, the officers are doing a great job. We stand with them in solidarity. And we want them to know you have an obligation just as we do to hold our community accountable, that you hold your fellow law enforcement officers. When we didn’t see that happen like many felt should have, that was a level of emotion that sparked outrage for so many. And I think listening and hearing in this particular instance, George Floyd call for his mother. Knowing that he felt like this is the end. And his mother who is deceased mom I’m calling for you. Even though she couldn’t come and help him. It was just a level of emotion that I wish no one would ever have to experience.

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