Letters to the Community: An Open Conversation about Race

Local News

(WFRV) – Living in these current times, as a television station with the power to inform viewers throughout Northeast Wisconsin and as vital members of this community, we wanted to do something unique FOR our communities. We want to help create productive opportunities to have conversations about race so that all sides start to listen and hear each other.

We’re reaching out to various members in our area to put together their own one minute letter to our/their communities. Their wants, feelings, concerns, and hopes – totally unscripted and unedited – our community speaking from the heart.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at making the special:

Now, it’s your turn to submit your letter sharing your experience with race in Wisconsin. The submission form will be open until August 27. Once submitted, letters will be featured on our website.

Here’s how to submit your own letter

Below are the letters featured in our special:

Harry F. Sydney III

When you look at me what do you see? Do you see a 3 time Super Bowl Champion? Do you see the President and Founder of My Brother’s Keeper started in 2003?

Do you see a proud father, step-father and Grandfather?

Do you see a husband in love with his wife?

Do you see a man that worked for everything he has, who also knows he is blessed because many fell short?

Do you see me as just a black man?

DO NOT JUST SEE ME……..UNDERSTAND ME!

I have said before Green Bay is the American Dream once you are old enough to recognize what the American Dream is.

Martin Luther King had a dream… This is our community I live here you live here change starts with you and I.

Embrace me…….Don’t Hate Me!

It’s not a black thing or a White Thing it is a MAN THING

You and I have so much more in common once we all become COLOR BLIND not BLINDED BY COLOR!!!!

ALL LIVES WILL THEN MATTER!

Sheng

Dear Wisconsin,

When you see me you may not see an American. Perhaps, you might even see someone who is a threat to you. Someone who might have the Coronavirus disease. Someone who is a burden to your welfare system. Someone who might hurt you.

Please know that I will not hurt you. Please know that people of color will not hurt you. We are not a threat to you, your economic system, or healthcare. We are asking for the same freedom that every American values. We are asking for the same rights that every American seeks. We are asking you to accept us as who we are.

You might be hurting right now, and I acknowledge that. Me, you, them, everyone. We are hurting because we are afraid.

Afraid of one another.

Afraid of the unknown.

I ask that we put our fears aside and help one another. Stand up for one another. Build hope and resilience in one another. I ask this because in a time of crisis, patriotism unites us. I ask this because we are American.

Sincerely,

Sheng

Rabbi Shaina

Dear Friends,

For most of my life, I thought I understood racism. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues and the heart of Jim Crow where segregation was the rule.

I learned in school that slavery wasn’t so bad. And most importantly, the entire Southern economy depended on slaves. So don’t let anyone tell you that the civil war wasn’t about slavery, that it was about the economy.

Slavery was the economy.

I was lucky to grow up with parents who were not bigoted and taught us right from wrong. The other thing I learned was to keep these thoughts to myself. Voicing them could bring danger.

Southerners assured themselves that the North was just as bad. I didn’t believe it. It was just so bad there. The law protected white people and harassed blacks. I thought it was just the South.

But they were right. Bigotry is everywhere, often unseen. Or rather, unseen by white people. As in the South, the law often protects white people but torments blacks.

I did not expect what I encountered here. That Green Bay was once a whites-only town. Or that I’d see rebel flags all over the state. I was flabbergasted. This was a union state! Yes, the flags were ubiquitous in the South, but I assumed this was misguided loyalty to the ”lost cause” of the confederacy. And of course, that included a yearning for the ”good old days” of slavery.

So why would anyone outside of the South fly this flag? They’re not yearning for the confederacy. It’s simple. It was and is a symbol of hate. In Germany, where the swastika is banned, people use the good old stars and bars to express their hatred of other groups.

Most white people don’t grow up in fear. What we don’t see is the rampant fear in the black community. They’re afraid of us and often with good reason.

Sadly, because of my southern upbringing, I always understood Black Lives Matter. But until recently, I didn’t understand the extent. Today, with cell phones everywhere, we see murder after murder. And that’s only part of the oppression our dark-skinned friends have always lived with here in the Land of the Free.

There is so much more to say. The more I see, the more it hurts. We cannot remain silent. We must listen to the cries of the oppressed. And then we must act. A caring God demands no less.

In love and blessing,

Rabbi Shaina

Zakia

For years now we have been protesting giving speeches we have asked for changes to be happen we have been shot at accused of things that we did not do because of our skin color.

As you guys said what can you guys do to make it better see it before you think about doing something not that all colored people are bad in fact no one is everyone makes mistakes. But the fact that we cannot walk down the street in our own skin color and community is radicals and it is not fair everyone should feel safe in the community and skin color.

We are trying to make this better for the generation our parents should not have to teach us to walk with our hands on the side when the police is around we are just trying to make things better.

Zakia

Gratzia Villarroel

Hello Northeast Wisconsin,

I am Gratzia Villarroel, an International Relations professor at St. Norbert College.

I was born in Bolivia.

When we arrived in Green Bay in 1990, and as one of the first Hispanic families in the area, we encountered the typical challenges immigrant families face in new communities.

However, good neighbors made all the difference. I was fortunate to experience the wonderful Wisconsin hospitality right here in Allouez.

Our beloved neighbor Audrey, may she rest in peace, had a beautiful playroom where she welcomed all the neighborhood children.

Neighbors Molly and Gary helped in any way they could. We never had to ask. They would just appear when we most needed them.

Our sweet neighbor, Mae, always had freshly baked banana bread and welcomed you to her cozy home with a warm smile.

They were all a blessing, and we were grateful.

As neighbors, the more we learned from each other, the more we valued each other.

The history of immigration to the U.S. has benefitted the larger community. Let’s extend the hand of hospitality to newcomers.

Their energy and innovation nested in a welcoming community will ensure that our communities flourish.

Gratzia Villarroel

Daniel

Dear Wisconsin Friends,

I have been feeling upset about racism in the police force. Police officers have been hurting and killing African Americans instead of protecting them.

I believe human skin color doesn’t matter because we are all special in our own way. We need to treat each other as we would treat our family.

I like reading from other cultures because I enjoy learning about their beliefs and the differences make us all special.

I have Puerto Rican and Laotian heritage. When I learned about Mayan and U.S. southwest culture through reading stories, like The Storm Runner, by authors from different communities, I have learned to appreciate the strengths and creativity each culture offers.

To have meaningful relationships we need to be open to learning from each other.

I hope we can learn to see the gifts that all people bring to the community, especially Black, Hispanic, Hmong, Asian and First Nation friends here in Green Bay.

Sincerely,

Daniel

Christin DePouw

To my community:

After months of sheltering in place and years of increasing divisions, it is heartening to see efforts to build equitable and safe communities while making our democratic ideals more real.

In some ways, we have felt more distant from democracy than ever – tens of thousands of Americans have died while the person in charge of keeping us safe seems more interested in fighting for political survival than for the lives of his constituents. In other ways, real democracy seems more possible than ever after months of Americans holding us to our claim that all of us deserve justice and equality.

Many of us, especially those of us who are white, have found it more difficult to avoid recognizing what we have always known – that our ideals are not yet realized and we have a lot of work to do. To me, it is urgent that we all accept responsibility for that work so we can all live with dignity and without fear.

As we try to solve these urgent challenges of physical and economic well-being, we also have to do the work of ensuring that our democracy is safe and ready to move into a future that finally commits to enact what we, say we believe.

We need to remember that we live interdependent lives – that your well-being ensures mine, and harm that I allow for you will also make me less safe, less ethical, less of a person who can look in the mirror without shame or deception. If we truly allow ourselves to commit to this work now, we can elevate ourselves as a community and make this a place where all of us can live together, sharing both power and penalty, and committed to a future that includes us all.

Christin DePouw

Joseph Smeall

Dear Green Bay,

When I was three years old, we had just moved here: one of the first Hispanic families in town. My mom drove across the Leo Frigo Bridge for the first time. I could see you through the window. You were laid at my feet, like a toy castle built of Legos. And above us, all the sky. Later, at preschool, I told my teacher Colleen about driving across the Tower Bridge the first time. She said, “Joseph Joseph Joseph. I never go across that bridge if I can help it. It’s too windy, and too high. Your mother is very brave.” When I was three years old, I didn’t understand what she meant by saying my mother is brave.

Now I think I do.

But you, O Green Bay, are not least among the cities of this great nation. For out of you, will come forth a transfiguration that will cherish democracy, respect love, and take pride in liberty.

History will smile on you,

Joseph Smeall

Marcy Levine

Dear Wisconsin Neighbors,

I am a recently retired Green Bay elementary school teacher. I have been fortunate to have taught hundreds of students over my career. My students have been all races and ethnic groups: Caucasian, Hispanic, Black, Asian, Native American, Middle Eastern, and every possible mix.

We are truly a diverse community and we embrace that. If you were to visit our schools, you would see students learning and playing together as friends. You would also see books and resources that represent our diverse student population, because inclusion and representation is essential to self-worth. It also encourages empathy, acceptance, and perspective-taking.

Our schools and classrooms are reflections of our neighborhoods, our towns, our counties and state. This is who we are. Yet, when watching our local news, I’m disappointed that this diversity isn’t represented.

I sent a letter to Channel 5 News and was asked to write again and to be a part of this special. It would have been easier to pass it up but I believe we all have a responsibility to speak up and do whatever we can to move us forward as a country. I am urging our local media to do more to work towards equal representation, and I urge others to expect it. That means not only in the stories they share, but in the faces we see who tell them. I believe it’s extremely important, not only for children to see themselves represented, but for adults and families as well. What we see in our local news and entertainment should reflect what we see in our communities.

Sincerely,

Marcy Levine

Destinee

Dear community,

Over the last couple months various conversations about race has been had and not much has been done. I’ve heard the question “what do you need from us” more than I’ve heard my own name. Were starting to sound like broken records. We’re tired of going out into our community and dealing with problematic racist people.

Were tired of going into jobs and stores and being heavily discriminated against.

We’re tired of are so called allies throwing in the towel when the going gets tough.

We’re tired of being targeted in school even though it hasn’t started.

We know it’s going to happen, And we’re tired of EXPLAINING or trauma.

We’re tired of news reports and videos that haven’t gotten us anything but a flag and a national holiday. Don’t get me wrong that was a nice gesture but we need more we need basic rights. We need to feel and be safe. We need to be able to get the job that we are qualified for but our skin isn’t. We need to be taught about our real history and not the comfortable version.

We need to be able to walk down the street or into the store and not be a suspect. Some action needs to be taken were no longer asking were demanding it. We’ve been patient long enough explaining more than a thousand times it’s now time for the rest of the community to hold up their end of the deal.

Destinee

Mai

Dear Wisconsin Family,

I am a daughter of Wisconsin. Wisconsin raised me. Instilled a strong work ethic. Showed me kindness.

And taught me how to be kind. Wisconsin also showed me discrimination. Hate based on my race.

Wisconsin showed me its misunderstanding of my Hmong heritage and history. Reminds me daily – I do not belong.

Wisconsin taught me how to be Wisconsin-nice about my pain.

Wisconsin-nice in sharing who I am.

Wisconsin-nice about my sense of never-belonging here.

Wisconsin, I need you. I need you to speak to your family members, your neighbors and your co-workers. Stop their hateful word. End their painful actions. And educate about another way.

Wisconsin, I need you to understand why I am here.

We all have fallen in love with living in the great state of Wisconsin.

We all have found a region of Wisconsin to call our own.

I call the Northeast Wisconsin region my home. I live and work in this region.

I need you, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin needs you.

We are Wisconsinites that need to unite together.

Always, Mai

Sara

Dear Friend,

And I hope we can all begin to see each other as friend, not as other, not as someone we see as suspicious, but someone who we are curious to meet as a person.

I lived in McAllen, Texas as a child, I went to a welcoming and diverse school. I came to Wisconsin a few years ago, with my family expecting the same. My dad lived in Wisconsin as a child, with memories of a place where people from all over the world and with different backgrounds hanging out in school. Maybe I am in the wrong part of the state, but his memory doesn’t match my current reality.

Why do people live in markedly different neighborhoods?

Don’t repeat that lie of “they like to live with their people.”

There is no our people we are all people.

Why can’t we all aspire to the same treatment, life, vacations, peace? Why don’t we know our neighbors? Is it just because we look different? Why are we so quick to detect the “other” and so slow to be generously curious about our own humanity?

In Green Bay we have people with many histories, that come from many places. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn from each other?

I dream that one day, we will all be neighbors and that we will truly care for, and love each other, no matter where we come from, what we look like or where we’ve been. Because our past shapes us, but our future depends on how we think about, and act around each other.

Your friend,

Sara

Dana

Dear Neighbor,

If you are white, I need you to listen… listen to understand, listen with empathy, listen without responding.

We need to get serious about equity and equality for our communities of color. I hear that our white community is exhausted by marches, protests, random acts of violence; welcome to the reality of what it is like to be a person of color, every day, in America.

Our Black, Latinx, First Nation, and Hmong community members feel this, feel the constant oppression. I want us to be a community that does not segregate neighborhoods, that creates equity in the advancement of underrepresented groups, and to be a community that takes a stand against racism.

It exists…and it’s time for you, me, and all of our neighbors to stand up, rise up, listen to our brothers and sisters in our communities of color, and MAKE CHANGES that will carry the next generation to a more inclusive and equitable future.

Dana Johnson

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