At the end of May, four weeks after my college graduation, I was in my family’s Michigan home, packing to move to a new city. As I folded laundry, taped boxes, and struggled to part with sentimental things, in the background were images on TV of peaceful protests and then increasingly violent riots in the city of Minneapolis after the killing of a black man by a white police officer.
I watched a community mourn and burn. I watched teenagers and reporters alike be tear-gassed from moving police cars. Watching these events unfold, I couldn’t believe that I was going to be moving as unrest began to take over America.
That home I was moving to was Minneapolis.
I am beginning my professional career as a reporter for the city’s major newspaper, during a news event that will become history.
I was giddy with the excitement of a new adventure. But over the course of our 10-hour road trip, my mom talked to me as if l was heading into a war zone—and not just the current one, but one that would follow me for my entire life as a person of color. She reminded me, almost tearfully, of the inequalities I’ll face.
“You know you can always come home,” she said, though my eyes were already on the future. “For any reason.”
My mom knows firsthand that I will face hurdles—more than just the flat tire that delayed our trip for over five hours. I know that my press pass won’t mask my blackness, especially during a time like this. But I wouldn’t want it to, even as journalists are shot with rubber bullets and arrested with impunity in Minneapolis and all over the country.
Parents are supposed to worry, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I said I wasn’t also nervous, facing both the coronavirus and a city under siege over the police killing of George Floyd. I knew that the unrest in Minneapolis was the result of many violent incidents—including ones from just the past couple of months.
Like so many others who are quarantined at home, I watched two men kill Ahmaud Arbery on video. Unable to gather with others who had witnessed that horrific video, my college roommates and I escaped our apartment to walk 2.23 miles, a distance that signified the day he was killed, February 23. Our walk was quiet, pensive. To keep our distance from others, we walked around my apartment complex roughly four times, passing signs of the new normal—doors propped open so as not to touch them, masks dangling from rear-view mirrors.
There was no video of Breonna Taylor, but her story was equally as horrifying. I can’t stop thinking about her work as an EMT, and how she’d been taken too soon from a life in which she helped others.
While this violence and the pandemic have been difficult for everyone in this country, it has been deadly for black and brown people. This year has left few unscathed by loss, disappointment, or sharp change. But once the video of Floyd pleading that he couldn’t breathe hit social media, the lives of all Americans were once again shifted.
That next morning, Minneapolis was in flames. I was surprised—this hadn’t happened after Arbery, Taylor, or the numerous black and brown lives before them. The city—and ultimately the country—had decided that this time, things would be different.Following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a white police officer, Minneapolis was riven by often-violent protests.Anadolu Agency
Starting a professional career would be nerve-wracking enough for any recent graduate. But I have laid awake at night with the weight of my responsibility. Black people are always tasked with a little bit more, held to a higher standard. Journalists don’t advocate, but reporters of color have a responsibility to be representative and inclusive in our reporting. That’s one of the aims of Report for America, a service-focused journalism initiative that placed me at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Despite the incredible challenges I’ll face learning a new beat and developing sources mostly alone and in the confines of my apartment, I know that I’ll be able to do the work I’ve trained to do, and bring my values as a journalist of color to readers.
Our responsibility is diversifying our sources—making sure that coverage of a scientific event, for example, has more than just one kind of source. It’s in not only listening to all sides of a story, but considering those whose voices aren’t heard. Because of the hard work of reporters on the ground in Minneapolis, it is evident that the people are being heard. After several days of protest, the charges against Derek Chauvin, the man whose knee killed George Floyd, were bumped up, and the three other officers involved were arrested and charged.
Though no journalist’s life is mundane, this is not the welcome I had expected. As I drove into Minneapolis, the pain the city is feeling was evident in the air, and in my surroundings. All of the businesses in my new neighborhood are boarded up. The plain wooden boards are covered in bright words of protest. A big house on my street is covered in a sign that reads “white silence is violence.” There is artwork of remembrance, depicting Floyd’s face, honoring him and his family.
Further down my street, in front of both homes and apartment buildings were calls for an end to systemic racism, an end to violence in Minneapolis, and scores of signs reading “Black Lives Matter.” I unpacked my bags and smelled tear gas in the air from just blocks away. Helicopters flew low to the ground, and neighbors warned of the impending curfew.In recent days, the protests in Minneapolis have grown less violent, and instead celebrate solidarity.Brandon Bell
“You ladies heading home?” a woman asked my sister and me. “Be safe tonight!” a man called from his truck, as we walked.
The wounds felt by Minneapolis and this country will likely be open for a long time, and it is my job to respond to them, even with the unknown. Back in Michigan, my mom is still worried, as to be expected. But she isn’t surprised by my dedication, because I learned it from her.
Zoë Jackson is a writer from Detroit, based in Minneapolis. She is a Star Tribune reporter and Report for America fellow. @zoemjack