By Hayley Crandall
“We have to meet this moment head on with honesty and with truth,” said author and political commentator Bakari Sellers. “For too long, we have been talking to Black men, but we haven’t been listening to Black men.”
That was the tone for “Shop Talk,” the roundtable conversation hosted by the Biden for President Campaign, which took place on Thursday, Aug. 27. The virtual roundtable brought various Black activists from multiple industries, some of which call Wisconsin home, together to discuss issues impacting Black men and their community.
The talk was set to mimic the feel of being in a barber shop, allowing the speakers to discuss real issues with some casual banter. Conversations ranged from the importance of voting to the aftermath of the Kenosha, WI shooting late August.
It was moderated by Gee Smith, the owner and founder of Gee’s Clippers: a Milwaukee-based barber shop and beauty salon.
The shooting of Jacob Blake was a looming topic during the panel. NAACP-Kenosha Branch President Anthony Davis gave viewers a grim glimpse of the situation in Kenosha.
“To see this young man and the video where he got shot has had a terrible effect on the whole community. We’re in the process of mourning. We’re asking for your support during this time. But the worst thing that’s happening right now is we have folks destroying our properties. We have so many people that are going to be hurting now,” said Davis. “It just hurts. We are going to get through this. We’re trying to bring our folks together.”
Davis continued with discussing the treatment of the community by police and the brutality that comes with it. He explained his stance and called for police to address the problems.
“The biggest thing we’re dealing with is how police treat our brothers and sisters. They don’t treat them with respect or kindness because of the color of their skin. It has really turned our folks off with our police department,” explained Davis. “I’m not saying all cops are bad, but what I’m saying is they’ve got some bad ones in there. They need to really address that situation.”
Violence Prevention Manager for City of Milwaukee Jamaal Smith also took time to explain the disparities seen throughout the state of Wisconsin.
Smith described how the build-up of various issues, from housing to criminal justice, leads to the protesting seen today and need for change.
“We have to recognize that Wisconsin has been deemed the worst place for African Americans to live,” said Smith. “We’ve seen historically, that the impact of racism and racial injustice that has permeated through this country has been very prevalent. So, when you ask about what’s happening, whether it’s in Milwaukee or what’s happened tragically in Kenosha, what we’re really seeing is compounded frustration at the regularity of these actions.”
Voting and its importance was another one of the overarching hot topics for the night.
“Wisconsin was a state we lost last go-around by a few,” said Sellers. “We can find those votes.”
Chuck Creekmur, the co-founder and co-CEO of AllHipHop.com, a hip-hop centric Black owned website, which broadcasted the roundtable, mentioned voting earlier in the evening when he kicked the event off.
“I want to urge everyone out there to get out and do whatever you can at this time,” Creekmur said. “Get out and push hard for everyone in your communities and beyond to vote. This is a real time where consequences are real if you don’t vote.”
There was an understanding among panelists that while voting doesn’t fix everything, it is a step in the right direction.
“As I’ve got older, I realize how much different Atlanta is and how much of this city, the people in my city, actually really get out and vote and really put people in office in different chairs,” Jermaine Dupri, a rapper and producer said. “It doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does make a safer space for us as Black people.”
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes shared his support for Biden and reinforced the idea that voting is an important first step.
“Even electing Joe Biden, we have to recognize that it’s step one,” said Barnes. “I know we have a much better chance of holding Biden accountable than the current White House occupant. In no way is Nov. 3 the end. We have to keep going.”
As the roundtable was a Biden campaign sponsored event, a lot of the talk boiled down to what the Biden-Harris administration could do for the Black community and how it should address the issues discussed.
There was a pretty mutual agreement among participants that Biden cares, has plans and is more accessible as he listens to communities. Accountability appears possible with him, Sellers noted.
“When people ask me why I’m supporting Joe Biden, it’s clear for me,” Sellers said. “You have a Black equity plan we can hold you accountable for. You have a Black agenda we can hold you accountable for. We have a Black female VP. We’re going to get a Black Supreme Court Justice. These are tangible things.”
“I feel like it’s important for us to join forces with someone who wants to listen, someone who wants to hear what we’re talking about,” Dupri said. “I had a conversation with Biden and other people from Atlanta, and he took the time out to come and listen. I feel like if we’ve got someone willing to do that and we are held accountable to say what needs to be said, this is the perfect place and perfect platform to be behind.”