By: Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod
Johnston County Report reached out to five local public figures and asked they share their personal thoughts about current social justice issues. This is the second in a series of 5 articles that will publish this week.
Last month, I stood on the edge of a parking lot at my alma mater, Clayton High School, on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, looking out across a sea of faces of all colors and all ages. Exactly one week earlier, and just 25 minutes away, protests had turned into violent and destructive riots in the streets of our capital. And five days before that, more than 800 miles away, George Floyd had been killed in police custody.
The country was divided. But what I saw in Clayton was such a diverse crowd…young people, families, teachers, business owners, even a Johnston County district judge. They had been invited to gather and march by a young man who had willingly collaborated with our town staff and met repeatedly with our Clayton Police officers to ensure his event was organized and peaceful. That alone was amazing. His was a call to unify behind a shared future. He wanted to BE the change. He wanted to show everybody what a community coming together looks like. And he did.
Justin Bell is just a junior at Clayton High, but he and his classmates had the maturity to know it is time to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and perhaps, most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves. Those students and young people that I witnessed using their voices to be heard – are the next leadership in this town. And their incredibly unifying actions showed me…they are ready for the challenge. I’m so proud I was there by Justin’s side. So proud that our Police Chief, Blair Myhand, was also by his side, openly denouncing the murder of George Floyd. Justin commented to media that in other places, the police marched in uniform, but that Clayton’s Chief marched without his uniform to, in Justin’s words “show everybody he’s truly with us and the cause.” That is simply awesome. That is what we need.
Fast forward to just last week and I joined a digital lunch-time panel discussion with the Clayton Mid-Day Rotary to hear from Elizabeth McCullough. The Clayton resident had emailed me and each of the Town Council members at the height of the national unrest to ask for our help as town leaders. She knew there was more we could do to address issues regarding race and equality within our community. She has formed the Racial Equality Coalition of Clayton NC and wanted elected officials and law enforcement leaders to help her set the groundwork for reinforcing trust and building stronger relationships. She is eloquent and determined, and we all told her, she has our full support.
Clayton didn’t always look like this. Clayton didn’t always come together to talk like this. These are unprecedented times in the 150-year history of our small town. And while the history of our town and our country cannot be changed, the future can be. Yes, there is work to do and but I cannot say enough how impressed I am with what I have seen in the past 6 weeks. Amazing people from all walks of life, religions, backgrounds and races are coming together with open minds, open hearts and such clarity of purpose. That’s my hometown. That’s the Clayton I love.
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