As we reflect upon the events of recent weeks, the Sorensen Institute wants to share voices from Virginia's civic life calling for greater awareness of the black experience in Virginia.
Last week, we featured a compelling personal narrative by Wendell Taylor, a Sorensen Political Leaders Program alumnus.
This week, we are featuring another compelling piece—this one by Garrison Coward—about his own difficult personal experiences. Garrison has worked for a Member of Congress (who has often spoken to Sorensen Institute programs) and held a senior role in the Republican Party of Virginia. He identifies himself in his piece as a "a commonsense conservative who happens to be black."
The piece is presented with Garrison's permission. It previously appeared in the Jefferson Policy Journal on June 10, 2020. A version of this commentary originally appeared on June 1, 2020 in the online publication Bearing Drift: Virginia's Conservative Voice.
Together We Rise, Divided We Fall
by Garrison R. Coward
It’s been a tough week in America. It’s hard to explain what’s been going through my mind as I am a problem solver but it’s apparent that at this point, in order for us in America to truly move forward, we have to start speaking and sharing our truths on race.
Here’s my truth:
Growing up, I can’t count on my hands how many people would say you “act or speak white,” or you’re a very articulate and well-spoken young man.
Or how when my personalized tags weren’t swapped out properly by DMV on a new vehicle, three cops followed me home and came to my car with guns drawn at 9 pm in my own driveway — or how many altercations occurred at all points in life because someone called me the N-word.
Or having the cops called on me because, well, just because! Or people who spread falsehoods about you to attempt to discredit you … and I could go on and on…
All that said, here’s the other truth: I can’t count on my hands the number of people who didn’t look like me that would let me sleep in their homes even when they weren’t there, pick me up from events and practices, call and check in on me in college, and continue to help me with professional advice. People who support me more than I could ever imagine in my endeavors.
How many times growing up I was in the wrong and was bailed out and guided by people who didn’t look like me. How many people of all backgrounds who gave me opportunities that shaped me to become who I am today.
My inner circle is a true melting pot because I realized a long time ago that it’s important to understand people who are NOT like you. Only then do you realize that we’re all fighting a battle that we may never “win.”
So if you understand that, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from about how we move forward:
Just try to be a part of the solution. Educate, conversate, uplift, and be with one another. Protest if you want, make your voice heard, but most importantly, try to understand one another — cut out this left vs right rhetoric because, trust me, there are bad actors on both sides.
Side note: You’re about to see politicians on both sides attempt to fundraise off of this … take notes and do with it what you choose.
And most importantly stop one of my biggest pet peeves: labeling people.
I’m not a black Republican — I’m a commonsense conservative who happens to be black. No political party owns me. Do you see the difference?
We need leadership right now. Leadership from the White House to Congress to State Houses to our City Halls to our communities, but this is America. Our America. Let’s not let this be the new normal.
I see a lot of talk about let’s reset 2020 or forget about it. Nope. Let’s confront it and not cover up decades of wounds in this country.
Institutions are only as great as the people who empower them. Infiltrate them. We need more men and women in law enforcement. I’d love to see a push for more minority law enforcement officers.
We need more public officials and leaders who care about equal opportunities for all and not equal outcomes. People who don’t use their power to pick winners and losers.
Basically, you want to fix this? Start by having tough conversations with yourself, then truly get involved and be a part of the change in your community.
I’m not going to lie, it’s hard right now — it’s tough to keep watching all this unfold. But it’ll make us stronger as a people. Folks have been fighting this battle for too long and are tired. It seems that the more we progress, the more we regress.
Let us chart the path forward. Together, as best we can.