8:46: The Introduction to The Black Lives Matter Edition of Southern Souls


Amyre, 38 – News Director; Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University

Southern Souls is a story-telling series that offers a personal look into the lives of people around us, showing that all souls can relate to one another through our laughter and tears, successes and failures. In keeping theme with the Black Lives Matter movement, we’re temporarily shifting the focus of the series to highlight what some have perceived as racially motivated incidents that have had lasting impacts on black people living in Georgia. The goal is to discuss, educate and grow as a community, so that we can all come together and create a more inclusive environment for generations to come. Editors note: after discussion about the necessity of spelling out the ‘N-word,’ it’s been decided that we won’t use it in these reports, even in context, as a sign of respect to the community, especially those impacted by hate speech. 

Eight minutes, forty-six seconds.

That’s how long it took George Floyd to die, face down on the ground, with a knee to his neck. Since then, the onslaught of media coverage of everything from his death, to the protests, other victims, more arrests – all of it was overwhelming for me. To my surprise though, it was also over-whelming to some of my white friends and colleagues who came to me with what I felt was a very genuine question: “Is it really that bad for black people?”

To be as direct as possible, the answer is yes.

Throughout my professional career as a journalist, spanning around a decade at this point, I’ve never been in this position given to me by the Center for Collaborative Journalism, to take an editorial approach to mainstream headline news. In this instance though, I thought the more that we can all explain our feelings and experiences as it pertains to racial injustice, the better chance we have of understanding one another and dare I say, find a common ground and learn to respect our differences. Understanding; that was always the purpose of “Southern Souls.” But in light of recent events and the questions that followed, I asked a variety of other black people I’ve come across, to share with me their personal stories of what it’s been like to be a person of color living in the South. Because while I am no where near having all the answers, I do have experiences, as do my interviewees, so sharing seems like the best place to start.

To the surprise of some, yes, I identify as a black woman. My family is black and Creole. My skin is fair and my eyes like to hover somewhere between green, gray and blue, but I’m black. My father was on legal staff at General Motors for the vast majority of my life, one of the few black men then in that position company wide. My mother was the first black news anchor on the first black owned television station in history, WGPR TV in Detroit, Michigan. In fact, she’s in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture because of it. My older brother spent part of his college career at Morehouse College before finishing at The University of Michigan and I began and ended my studies at what’s known as the mecca for all Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Howard University. I’m also a member of the first black Greek lettered sorority in history, Alpha Kappa Alpha. In our childhood years though, my brother, Rudy, and I were only two of what would eventually be a total of 5 black kids in our lower and elementary school combined.  That’s where my story begins.

I was in elementary school the first time I realized I wasn’t always welcomed. A white classmate had a birthday party and invited every other girl in the grade to come, except me. It wasn’t an oversight. It was widely talked about among the other kids. The black girl wasn’t invited. The excuse at the time was that the girl felt she didn’t know me well enough, even though we had been in the same school for a year. Oddly enough, a new, white girl joined our grade a few weeks prior. If you’re wondering; yes, she was invited. All I could do is tune out the talk of how much fun they all had when school resumed the following Monday.

Fast forward to middle school, that’s the first time one of these same classmates called me a n*****. We were working on a classroom project in history, writing a newspaper as though we were reporters during the Civil War. A boy thought it would be hysterical to make a joke at my expense and name his article, “N*****s Pull the Triggers” and he wanted me to know it. He looked me directly in my face and repeated himself, followed by, “Right, Amyre?” Some of the class laughed. At this point, my big brother was gone, otherwise I would have gone the route of getting him and his best friend, Patrick, who is white, yet we still consider him our biological brother, too, to at least scare the kid into apologizing. It was just me in my grade though, somewhere around the 6th grade at the time. I was surrounded by 20 something other white kids, in a school full of white teachers and white administration. I did not know what to do so I bottled the anger up. My parents were never aware. Had I told them, I’m quite sure my elementary/middle school wouldn’t even be in existence as of today. But when you’re a kid, you don’t always know what’s best, so I decided to run from it as fast as I could, which came after 8th grade, when I enrolled in one of the, if not the most, diverse high schools in metro-Detroit at that time, Mercy High School. It was the happiest I had ever been, or ever would be, as a student. Everyone’s cultures were embraced and celebrated. I met some wonderful women, some of whom I still keep up with to this day. I never kept up with any of my former classmates from the lower school, except one, Greg. Greg was always nice to me and even in recent times, as we both reflect on where we spent the first 8 years of our educational careers, he’s still ridiculously kind to me in acknowledging some of the differences I went through. I wish I had the maturity then to realize the ally that I had in Greg, but often times it’s age that brings the wisdom. We now talk regularly and we made it a point to have our kids play together when I was visiting Michigan. There was also Scott. While we have not kept in contact in adulthood, he was a wonderful friend in childhood. Scott included me when I don’t think I otherwise would have been, and that’s something you just don’t forget.

All of that though is child’s play. In adulthood, while working as an anchor in the Midwest, we had an incident of a young, light-skinned black woman being killed by a white police officer during a raid. Much like in recent times, there was some protest, but not to the extent that there is now. As the evening news anchor, I got a few letters that said something to the effect of “you aren’t fooling anyone, n****r, we know you’re one of them, too.” They were signed by a white supremacy group, but in all reality, who knows where they came from? Anyone can hide behind a piece of paper and pen; I figured it would pass over and thankfully, it did.

I can tell you stories for days: like the time my black friends and I were followed throughout a high-end store in Troy, Michigan, while we were Christmas shopping. I can even tell you about the time I was shooting my on-camera portion of my news package right here in Macon and had to find a new location after being told, “N****r, go home.” But it’s not just me. So, I went out into the community to find your peers, your colleagues, your friends and neighbors, to share their stories. My hope is that you’ll see a face you recognize or if not, hear a story that resonates with you. Use it as a conversation starter; it’s a way for us to talk through our issues and find that common ground.

Click here for more Southern Souls stories.

Southern Souls is comprised of actual, in-person interviews conducted by Amyre Makupson. Some statements may not be in chronological order. Names and locations may be changed to respect the privacy of participants. The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Amyre Makupson or The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University.