Bloomington native Dashea Crockett is a leader at Illinois State University's Impact Ministry, a Grayslake North High School graduate, and community activist with the Next Gen Initiative group. John Findley, Dashea's grandfather, has called Bloomington home after living on a farm with his family in Tupelo, Mississippi, and coming north during the Great Migration.
They spoke with student reporter Darnysha Mitchell for WGLT's series Living Black in Bloomington-Normal. Contact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.
How do you feel that systemic racism has impacted your life?
Crockett: It’s impacted my life in different ways. When I was living with my mom, I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary really, like racism. But in foster care living with white people, I did. They would just try to make racist comments and stuff. Just saying inappropriate stuff to me and my sister about Black people, and they were almost like trying to teach us being Black wasn't the way to go and that we should be more like white people.
What specific things would they say?
They will just say, "Oh my gosh, look at the crime rates." When we were watching the news and stuff, they would have us watch different crimes going on because we live in the St. Louis area — Alton, Ill. And in the St. Louis area — there'll always be Black people on the news. When crime happened, they will overexaggerate and be like, “Yeah, see, that's why we can’t go in those neighborhoods and you can’t be like them. It's just safe over here. And that's why you guys have to learn from us so you won't live that kind of lifestyle."
I lived in the hood and stuff with my mom, and it really wasn't no different. That's just day-to-day stuff that happened. Me and my sister used to watch "America's Most Wanted," and we see mainly white people. So sometimes we will argue with my foster parents and be like, it’s really no different, you know, crime is crime. And sometimes they overexaggerate over the Black people, but it's just, OK, some of "America's Most Wanted" is white. So we used to have to defend ourselves.
But that's really when we experienced racism the most, when I was in foster care.
And how old were you at that time?
10 or 11.
How did that make you feel?
I was just kind of confused. Because I was just appalled that they could feel that type of way towards us. Like I said, I thought it was just normal.
But then she put it in her perspective, or they will put it in their own perspective. And then me and my sister will always feel like we have to prove ourselves and stand up for our people, even though we live in a foster home. It made it a lot better when Obama became president, so we were like, "Look, now our president is Black, we’re not all bad people, you can all just label us the same."
It made me feel like less than a person. I’m not even going to lie. I was sad and a little frustrated at the same time. I just was kind of defensive in a way too.
Do you have non-Black friends or relatives or like anyone that's not Black, close to you right now?
I do. I went to Grayslake North High School when I was living with my aunt, and that school, you probably could count the Black people on your hands, like, how many Black people were in that school. And it's made up of mostly white people and Mexican. So I've been around like a lot of different diverse people.
I've had nothing but white and Mexican friends. Even living in foster care, too. The school I went to was majority Black, but still, I had friends that were Black, white, it didn't matter. I'm a very diverse person. I know how to be around all kinds of people. And I do have all types of friends and of different skin colors.
Are you having these conversations of racism and police brutality with any of them right now?
I do have conversations. We've always since high school had these conversations with my friends, because I've been very involved in stuff like this since high school. When Trump became president in 2016, and leading up to 2017, it was an uproar in my high school, because some of the teachers were coming out and saying their stance with Trump, saying "Build the wall." And that offended some of my Mexican friends.
So I took the initiative. We were all about the protest. So I took the initiative like, "Hey, we are about to protest, there’s not going to be any classes. Nothing until these teachers get some diversity training. We need to have some type of meeting because it's not OK for y'all to just feel like y'all can say whatever y'all want." It was just a lot of stuff going on about people ignorantly coming out and saying what they wanted to say, as far as racist remarks.
We had to sit down with the principal and write a message about unity. And all the teachers had to do diversity training. And I even started a group called "Woke" and stuff like that. My friends, they already know, we've been involved since high school, and that was my senior year of high school.
So they know that I'm very involved in they are very supportive. Most of them are very supportive.
There were protests in all 50 states and also almost 20-plus countries, making this the biggest civil rights movement in history. Why do you think that is?
I think it's a bigger movement now because everybody is sick and tired of it (racism). We are not about to go through the same thing that our people went through in the 60s and it was unfinished business from Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
But the difference was back then, we weren't as unified. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, I think they should have did it together. Otherwise, we would have gotten a lot more work done instead of there being division because of religion. But nowadays, everybody from every background is standing up. It don't matter from whatever background or political stance ... it don't even matter, everybody's sick and tired of it. And everybody has been involved.
And we're trying to actually have better solutions so that this cannot continue to go on, even though it is continuing to go on. For them back then, the killing didn't stop, the lynching didn't stop, when they were doing the movement. But we were trying to make progress for it to stop, and that was so we can all live together as one and be unified. We are human beings. Like ... the only race there is is the human race. I don't understand why we all don't know how to live together. And yet we're just sick and tired of it.
All of us around this country are now unified about making changes and we're serious about business.
John, Dashea mentioned you had a relative that actually encountered the KKK, who had a very heavy presence in the south during that time. Talk about that.
Findley: My dad knew them. My dad got put down real bad. They jumped on him about something. They beat him, stabbed him, and did everything to him. They killed him. Honestly, after that, I don’t know.
How did you find out about that?
I found out, I think it was the next day. I was in Chicago, he was in Jackson, Tennessee. Somebody told my mother and I heard about it right away.
Did you guys ever experience any harassment or rude comments from white people at that time?
Yeah, we’d get comments. They would come out and pick at us about our field. We had our field growing so nice and they couldn’t grow [their field] like that. They always criticized us, but they kind of stayed in the house.
The owners of the farm that rented to your family (they were white), did you guys ever have that conversation about the racial tensions going on at that time?
Nope. Never did.
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