The protests in response to George Floyd’s death and instances of racial injustice have brought the Black Lives Matter movement front and center. But for Jonathan Haynes, a 2016 graduate of Midland High School and 2020 graduate of Princeton University, it’s been something he has dealt with for most of his life. Haynes and his sister Adia were one of the many co-organizers of Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest in Midland on June 7.
Midland’s demonstration followed several recent peaceful protests in Saginaw, Bay City, and Flint. The event was organized by several previous students of Midland Public Schools, community leaders, and WOMAN – Women of Michigan Action Network helped to coordinate logistics with local officials and law enforcement.
Jonathan and Adia Haynes speak to the crowd on June 7.
The crowd filled a part of the circle, before the group walked down Saginaw Road and in seeing the critical mass and community support, some of the speakers choked up as they expressed gratitude, exclaiming “they’d never thought they would see this in Midland.”
“The largest crowd that WOMAN had in Midland previously was 400. I thought we would at least get that, but the turnout for the event was great,” says Haynes.
For him, it was about making others aware that the region still has a long way to go.
An aerial shot of the crowd gathered at the Circle on June 7.
“In school here in Midland, I experienced a lot more internalized and implicit racism growing up than outwardly expressed actions,” says Haynes. “I’d be told with a laugh to go to the back of the bus by teammates on the way to an away tennis match, or someone asking me when it was appropriate to use the N-word, or the people that said racism doesn’t exist here because you don’t get hosed into submission or chased by dogs.”
“It was the teacher that said, because it was Martin Luther King Day, I could do anything I wanted and not get in trouble, or the ‘friends’ that would play a ‘game’ where it always seemed to be my turn in which they stripped me of my shirt and whipped me, or being asked how high I could jump, or being told the only reason I got into Princeton was because of affirmative action.”
Signs from the June 7 protest in Midland.
While these experiences show the blatant racism Haynes has faced, he adds that it can manifest in more subtle ways and is deeply ingrained.
“Racism doesn’t mean having a KKK outfit tucked in your closet. It still thrives here today in much smaller moments,” says Haynes. “It’s still an issue, especially with when people claim not to see color. Along with that claim often comes people that don’t educate their kids about issues and that creates blind spots where people don’t speak up when something is wrong.”
“It’s especially hurtful when it comes from an influential person, or in messages that are dressed up in nice language,” says Haynes. “As a person of color, I can tell you racism is hard to deal with here, it’s ingrained, and it exists in forms deep enough that people don’t even realize that it happens.”
NAME speaks to a crowd in Midland on June 7.
Adia Haynes, Jonathan’s younger sister, joined him in Midland’s protest kickoff. Adia, a 2019 graduate of Midland High who now attends Spelman College in Atlanta, experienced such ingrained racism firsthand.
“There were so many internalized experiences growing up. I remember playing basketball and riding the bus to Saginaw High and coaches telling us to make sure we hide our bags, hide our phones, because Saginaw was dangerous,” says Adia.
Adia Haynes, a 2019 graduate of Midland High School speaks on June 7.
During Adia’s junior year in 2017, she co-organized a Colin Kaepernick-style silent protest at a football game, where students peacefully stood with arms linked during the national anthem. After the event, she received violent and threatening phone calls, emails, and text messages from adults, often while she was in class. She took the issue to student services, who sent her to the police. Adia recalls how they took her information, but never followed up.
“I didn’t feel supported and it was very isolating, like I could ask for help but that it was irrelevant,” says Adia. “By my senior year, with seeing some of the things that were allowed to go on, I didn’t feel safe, supported or loved at school.”
The group walking down Saginaw Road.
While Jonathan Haynes is off to Washington, D.C., to work in government affairs for Microsoft, he is also committed to change here. Haynes has sponsored a petition for reform in Midland Public Schools (MPS) and has set his sights on positive and forward-moving progress.
Haynes is seeking to help MPS adopt a national model for race education at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels, diversity training for staff and that a program be audited and independently verified.
A protester walks with a sign on June 7.
While the 2020-2021 budget is already set, Haynes is also seeking a re-appropriation of funds to address mental health, diversity, and public health needs within the 2022 budget.
“You always hear that Midland safe and welcoming, it’s been voted best place to raise a family and many other accolades,” says Haynes. “That is not the experience for everyone, and often comes at the expense of people of color and students of color. We need to make sure that is true for everyone.”
The group walked down Saginaw Road, around Walgreens and back.
Haynes summed up the event and impact recounting the story of a friend who attended the event and the realization it brought.
“After the event, someone described it to me that they realize now they were in a trance previously, and that seeing the protests, hearing the stories, having conversations with people who have faced injustice, it helped them see,” says Haynes.
Here are just a few of the available resources locally and online for education on this issue:
Black Lives Matter
Cultural Awareness – Midland Area Community Foundation
Midland Inclusion Council
Antiracism Resources – Good Good Good
Resources for White Allies – Dismantle Collective