Starting a conversation

Seth Kinker
Staff Writer

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. 

The deaths of these three African Americans in the first half of 2020 have sparked more national, and international, conversations, demonstrations and protests concerning the treatment of African Americans.

On Friday, June, 5, J.R. Nixon, a Minster 2015 graduate and recent University of Cincinnati alum. as of this spring, spent the majority of his day in front of the gazebo in Centennial Park in downtown Minster to try and start a conversation of his own.

Seated under a tent at a table, one piece of poster board at the table read, “Silence about racism, reinforces racism. Our ignorance is literally costing lives. My call to action: Start talking about it,” while another simply read “Black Lives Matter.” 

Other signs placed along the road read, “I can’t breathe,” “Say their name: George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor #BlackLivesMatter,” and “It is not enough to be quietly non-racist. Now is the time to be vocally anti-racist. Speak up. Step up. Show up.” 

Nixon has watched the conversations taking place across the United States, citing the demonstrations taking place on the streets of various cities, but said that the dialogue is being centered around urban locations when it should to be taking place in more rural locations, like Minster. 

“I wanted to give people a reason to start talking about those issues that never have the opportunity to be talked about,” said Nixon on why he was sitting in downtown Minster.

“Really the dialogue should be in small town America, should be in Minster, Ohio,” said Nixon. “Where there's a lot of people, who to a degree, are fortunate to never have the need to discuss any type of racial tension or race relations. But through their lack of education, and to an extent, the ignorance, they are helping perpetuate the issues that are putting down black people, people of color, throughout the United States.” 

He cited seeing a lot of close friends he made during his time at school in Cincinnati take part in their activism on social media whether that be participating personally or posting about the events taking place around the country. 

For Nixon, he has a love/hate relationship with social media, not posting very much but still using it. He made a post for the Blackout Tuesday trend that went across social media platforms on Jun. 2 and acknowledged in that post that he didn’t want to be seen as doing it to check a box. His makeshift stand on Jun. 5 was his way to, as he put it, “start a conversation.”

“I felt like personally, especially with my lack of just posting in general, that was not enough for me,” said Nixon. “I didn't want that to be an out for me to not be a part of this greater conversation. I wanted to figure out how to have that conversation, how to spark it in a meaningful way, and this is kind of what it came to.” 

After thinking about putting up a billboard somewhere locally fell through, Nixon took a couple days to gather the necessary materials to make the posters and settled on his display in downtown Minster as his way to be a lightning rod for conversation. 

This doesn’t come down to a political issue for Nixon. He acknowledged it’s a very conservative community and he wasn’t trying to liberalize it by any means. 

“But there are certain issues that should not be a conservative issue or a liberal issue,” said Nixon. “There are certain issues that are civil rights issues, that are human rights issues. And I feel like this is one of them.” 

Later in the day, Nixon was joined by Erin Keller, another Minster grad who has come to support the Black Lives Matter movement after going away to college and meeting new people and seeing new perspectives.

Keller said she joined Nixon because she thought it was  an important conversation to have in a smaller community like Minster. 

 “Everyone doesn’t need to agree about everything but I do think racism is still an issue in America and it needs to be discussed if its ever going to be solved,” said Keller. “That’s something I would like to see change not only with my generation but the older ones too because I don’t think anyone should be exempt from having this conversation no matter how uncomfortable it makes them or if they’re opposed to it.” 

The idea of setting up shop downtown in front of the gazebo, besides the “location, location, location” adage of realty that comes into play when factoring in where it may be best for the most amount of eyes to see you, came to Nixon when he thought of doing this in the first place. 

Nixon wanted to start the conversation locally with it being known he was a member of the community. He donned his block orange M hat, had Minster shorts and wore a Minster football t-shirt when sitting at his stand. 

“So, wanting to come at it from a, ‘I am one of you, trying to have this conversation with you,’ I wanted to embrace my Minster identity, if you will. I donned all Minster gear so I could do so,” said Nixon. “I came out to the most recognizable face of Minster, besides maybe the church, which is our gazebo, our Centennial Park, being where our Oktoberfest is.” 

There were various responses, positive and negative, to Nixon and his signs throughout the day. Passerby’s in cars clapped, gave thumbs down, thumbs up, the middle finger, raised fists, the shaking of heads and swear words.

In addition to the passerby’s, Nixon said he did have respectful conversations with a few individuals who had seen him driving by, stopped and approached him while other members of the community came up to him throughout the day and said they appreciated him doing what he was doing. 

Nixon told The Community Post those respectful back and forth conversations and positive reinforcement from part of the community had validated his decision to be out at the gazebo.

“There's been several other protests or several other demonstrations where I say, ‘I'm an ally and I support this community.’ But I didn't show up then,” said Nixon. “And I think with this instance, especially with me being back in my hometown where I'm not surrounded by people back at college who I could have these conversations with, I was spurred to be more vocal and do more.” 

Nixon told The Community Post setting up his stand over the weekend was one of the scariest things he had done in his entire life. He talked about the privilege of growing up in Minster with a well-respected name built by his well-respected parents, their parents and so on. 

He went on to say he was able to be successful in school, in sports and be active in the community with the community having a positive opinion of him in part because of the Nixon family name. 

“That's not boosting my head,” said Nixon. “That's me being aware of the privilege I have.” 

“So, I understood that I was staking that whole entire reputation by coming out here,” said Nixon. “And I was prepared to put the weight on my shoulders of holding that potential venom and hatred and distaste that people have for this. I was okay with putting that on my shoulders and doing that alone, but that was incredibly scary. I want to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. If I'm actually wanting to do the work, I needed to come out and do this.” 

Nixon’s actions were, hopefully, a conversation starter for a community willing to have one.

In addition to the various positive conversations and reactions on one end of the spectrum, there were also displays on the other end that included a car full of Minster alumni yelling racial epithets while passing by Nixon.