EPISODE NINE: ADAM JENKINS AND KRISTEN VERMETTEN
Adam Jenkins and Kristen Vermetten are partners and activists in Atlanta, Georgia. Adam is the founder of The Inmate Project which works to represent the overwhelming population of incarcerated black men and women in the United States. Adam wears a orange prison jumpsuit in everyday life, sparking conversation and dialogue about the justice system, racism and our implicit biases. Kristen works for the New Georgia Project which is working to register Georgian voters. Together, they make up an extraordinary couple who are using their unique voices to make change. They share their personal journeys to activism and what it is really like to be apart of the monumental Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 and why they say their work is only just beginning.
people, adam, jumpsuit, protest, black, wearing, realize, racism, orange jumpsuit, walk, point, savannah, life, emotions, partner, ticket, hear, community, racist, sit
Kristen Vermetten, Alison Hall, Adam Jenkins
Alison Hall 00:10
You're listening to between headlines. For today's episode of between headlines, I spoke with activists and partners, Adam Jenkins and Kristen Vermetten. Kristen is a dear friend of mine who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Kristen met the love of her life, a musician Adam a few years ago. And while I haven't had the chance to meet Adam in person, yet, I have heard a lot about him, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know him from afar. together. They are a powerful force of activism for equality and justice for the black community, and have worked incredibly hard for years, but especially in 2020. As we all know, the year 2020 has been marked with intense tragedy and uncertainty, but also a long overdue reckoning over race in the United States and abroad. Two years ago, Adam started something called the inmate project to demonstrate the inequalities in the justice system. Adam wears an orange prison jumpsuit in everyday life. Yes, you heard that correctly. While getting coffee, on a walk or even at a bar. Adam wears an orange prison jumpsuit. Adam tells me what it's like to suit up why he does it and how the project got started. Well, Kristen shares how she supports her partner in his activism, and passionately does her own Christian and Adam makeup an interracial couple. They come from incredibly different experiences. But through open communication and respect, they not only find common ground, but they educate each other and their communities on issues of antiracism. Adam and Kristen took to the streets in Atlanta after the public deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, expressing their anger and demands for justice. They share what it was really like to be a part of one of the largest civil rights movements in US history, and why they say they're not slowing down anytime soon. I am so grateful to Adam and to Kristen for opening up and sharing their individual and shared experiences with me. And in turn you and I hope you get as much out of this as I did.
Alison Hall 03:57
Adam what I really want to talk to you about first is the inmate social project. I want to know how you conceptualized it, and when did you start wearing this orange jumpsuit. And I want everyone to know the orange jumpsuit looks like a prison jumpsuit and it says on the back stop targeting black men.
Adam Jenkins 04:19
It's it started from 2017 allowed music ticket was given to me. And upon receiving it. The city of Savannah had lost the ticket. And so I had had the money to just pay it off to get back to regular life
Alison Hall 04:32
with a loud music ticket. I didn't even know that that was a ticket. Were you were you driving what happened in that moment?
Adam Jenkins 04:40
I was driving out from my mother's house back to Savannah on a Friday. And it was about maybe about three or four o'clock in the afternoon. So you know, being young and you're like mid to early 20s. Of course everybody's like playing music. It's a nice Friday. You know what I'm saying? So it was kind of serendipitous because I actually got pulled over playing this song called fear by Kendrick Lamar, that was actually a song about fearing law enforcement and fearing certain things that African Americans go through, and like it happened to me in the same moment. So a lot of questions were given to me that were kind of not even necessary for the situation in certain things. And that's when I kind of started to feel a certain type of way about certain racial and justices and certain things that were going on even a little bit more than I did originally. Because I've always been very cognizant and aware of what's going on. But that really kind of started to grind my gears because of the effects of what happened. So upon getting this ticket, trying to pay the ticket off, it takes about half a year to try to go through the whole system of Savannah, I wind up having to go to the clerk of Savannah. And he tells me with me and my mom, hey, this is a bogus ticket, we're gonna throw this away, because this just doesn't make any sense. So there's three witnesses who hear this, and we're like, okay, cool out and go back to regular life. So maybe a few weeks later, my mom calls me and she says, Hey, you have mail? And I was like, no, what is it, and she's like, you have a subpoena. And if you don't show up to court for this ticket, you know, they're gonna come have a warrant for your arrest of certain things. So I was like, wait, like, the three of us, you know, we were sitting here, trying to figure out and get to the bottom of this. And we actually have someone who works for the system who vouched for me to say he would handle it, and he didn't. So um, after those things that kind of started, I kind of wanted to dive into some type of research just about how certain things in Georgia runs. And again, I was always aware, but sometimes the devil is always in the details. So when you start finding out that we have these laws, like loud music tickets, we have these laws like Slowpoke rules, like if you go too slow in a lane, they can give you a ticket, after all of those things, that kind of happened. And eventually, we got down to the bottom of certain things. And they did throw the ticket out after having to go back to remind the clerk what he said he was going to originally do. And then even in the midst of the conversation, when we finally went back to talk to him, even the tone of what she spoke to me was terrible. Like, it was very threatening, we were sitting in the office with this guy. And, you know, I was like, sir, you know, you talk to me, you talk to my mom, talk to my girlfriend, we're all in here. And you said that you were going to do this originally. And of course, you know, my emotions were rising a little bit. But understandably, like I'm taking time off of work, I'm losing money from the situation, because I'm having to take a ton of time off work to handle this. And so he didn't understand my frustration, so much so that he told me relax your voice, or I'm not going to do what I said I was going to do originally. So he basically, in our, in our community, you know, we use the term sunning, he basically son me for for reminding him of something that he was going to do originally. So I felt like something was taken from me in those moments, you know, like being a young man and having someone look down upon you. And having someone give an empty promise to you that you have to remember, especially one that threatens your life and your livelihood. It does something to you in a way, you know. And that's when my gear started going about what I can do to silently protest the entire system of what's going on. Because there's so many everyday occurrences of racism that happens to just regular average, everyday citizens like that, like, and I don't think those occurrences get reported, versus what we see on the media, you know what I mean? Like we see the extreme cases of racism, when the ultimate result is death, or the ultimate result is something that you know that it's very, very radical. But what what, what types of examples Do we really have, when it comes down to a guy who's really just trying to go to work, a woman who's just really just trying to maneuver she might have made a mistake or unknowingly made a mistake, she has the funds or he has the funds to rectify the mistake, and you are still going to try to pull them into the system, all those things kind of amalgamated up into the conception of the inmate project.
Alison Hall 09:14
And so when did you actually decide to go through with it and like, what, what was it that gave you the idea to actually put on this orange jumpsuit?
Adam Jenkins 09:24
I have a I have a theory that when we think as human beings, when things are out of sight, out of mind, we tend to forget. And when it comes down to racism, I feel like racism in a lot of ways. It has to be be placed. You have to kind of just place certain things in the rooms of people who might otherwise say, Oh, that's not my problem, who might otherwise say, Oh, I'm drinking coffee. Today, I'm going to the mall. I'm going to go do this. I'm going to go do that. And even around that time, what was kind of going on is I would kind of go out and experience nightlife and stuff. There were some certain songs, what kind of come on because I always think that art really kind of coincides with a lot of the things that we see today, you can make correlations and they can, it can kind of pull on certain emotions and tug on you in certain ways. So when when I would kind of go out and I would kind of maneuver nightlife and certain things, everybody would be out having these great times and all this stuff, and they would have a blast, so to speak. And I would hear certain songs, and I would listen to lyrics. And you would hear some of some of these creators out here saying things that are really, really heavy on the mind. But for whatever reason, they've translated this into something that we can all sit here and jam on and whatever. And this is when I was like, wait, people can sit in here, and know that there's racism and certain things going on, whether it's a nightlife, whether it's in a restaurant, whether it's x, y, and z, and we can almost disassociate. And that's somewhat of a problem to me, I think there has to be an active level of just this is in your face, even though you may not live on this side of town, even though you may not be from this wall. This is something that you have to know is a constant for certain people who live here. That's just one part of like, what kind of spine wanting to put the jumpsuit on and then so I had to kind of get into the legalities of it as well, even researching is it legal to even put on a jumpsuit. And after having done some research, I found a really cool small company out in California, in the West Coast, who makes jumpsuits and certain things for kind of like movie sets and stuff in bulk. And I had to talk to one of the people there who actually kind of became a friend at the time. And I was like, Hey, I'm really kind of trying to do something to kind of shine a light because I'm seeing a lot of internet, social media activism where we share our opinion. And then we go back and we go to our jobs, and we go to work, after we say something online. And that's just not enough for me. So I was like, you know, I want to do this. And I needed a phrase. And I wanted to put something on the back of it because I was like, okay, a jumpsuit is great. But what can strike what what message, I want to be concise in the message that I'm trying to relay. And to me it was targeting, I was targeted. I have people in my family who were targeted also, even from my father, back in the early 90s. He was shot in his back running from a cop. So a lot of things aidid even just into the phrase on the back of it of you know, stop targeting black men, what is targeting, how is targeting used to affect the black walk, or the American walk here in the States?
Alison Hall 12:44
You and Kristen were together at this point. And I can only imagine you guys talked about this a lot. Kristin, what was what were your thoughts? When Adam was telling you about this idea?
Kristen Vermetten 12:55
I was definitely supportive. I think that having been a consumer of black culture my whole life, I definitely knew some aspects of the black plight. But it was different when a lot of these microaggressions were met at my door. My dad who's an attorney had to hear for his first time from another law maker that my boyfriend who's you know, someone he considers his son had been targeted because he was black that he had a sheriff tell him Yes, he received this ticket because he is black. And having certain sentiment sentiment said like that, where there was no questioning what happened, change the tone of our relationship. And my experience just being with a black man in the south. I think my own implicit bias became obvious in a lot of ways. Having Adam bring the jumpsuit to my small white town in northern Michigan was incredibly nerve racking, not because I didn't support him, but I wanted to make sure that people saw him beyond the jumpsuit. And what's changed in the two years since he started wearing this is now I don't really care if people see him past the jumpsuit, because at the end of the day being black in America, you can have that orange jumpsuit on because you're going to be targeted just the same. And that's been my biggest learning curve. And this is I can be an ally, I can be anti racist. And I can still have implicit bias where I'm concerned about protecting my partner from judgment. And in the past few years, what I've learned is, I don't really care to protect him from judgment anymore because the line has been drawn in the sand and there isn't room for pacity in this situation anymore, whether you're in a small white town in northern Michigan, or you're in the deep south. Either way, being black in America is essentially walking with a target on your back. And it's up to you as a white person to decide how you're going to be of help in that city. And it needs to be met with you at your front door. So that's that that was the biggest thing for me was to learn that I could still be apprehensive towards something because I was worried about his safety. I was worried about the fact that in Savannah, we are ready without him wearing a jumpsuit experienced, you know, aggressive interactions with other white people, and how was that going to be accentuated, and there were moments that it was scary, definitely. But there were also moments that were so beautiful. And even when he first got the jumpsuit, and we had to go get it tailored. There was this, like, these, like little Asian women that were tailoring Adam, and they were so excited, they thought this was just so cool. And there was a parole officer, a lady getting tailored at the same time as Adam and she looked at him. And she essentially said, you're doing the good work, like and this is someone who's working in the system that we're actively, you know, taking a stand against. And even in that moment, I realized, okay, this is going to be really beautiful. This is going to be nerve wracking, anxiety inducing, but it's going to force me and everyone who's around Adam, to confront what ever internally might be stopping them from being more of an ally and utilizing their privilege in a productive way.
Alison Hall 16:19
When would you wear it
Adam Jenkins 16:20
with what do you think about it, and it's, I mean, I say funny sarcastically, but I don't think people really realize what what type of mental effects putting on a jumpsuit pads on you, even if you're not in, in jail or prison. Um, and, and for me, when I first started, I was wearing it every day. I mean, like, of course, I couldn't wear it at work and stuff, but like I get off of work. And if we were going to go somewhere, I would wear it and stuff. But I was wearing it every day for at least, I would say almost like four or five months, almost like when it first started. And the first things I kind of noticed was one your sense of identity leaves you like, because when you put these things on, you don't have even if you're tall and you have a great body and curves, and whatever you have muscles, it does not matter. Like it does not matter when you when you throw this on, you are just like everybody else, your name is stripped from you, and you're given a number. And when those things are happening to you, and you're placed in a cage, basically, you start to lose certain parts of yourself, you start to lose your dreams, you start to lose what sense of purpose you had, you start to lose the things that you always cared about the most. And these things are purposeful, you know what I mean? Like it's not, it's not that you get in here and you're making these decisions, it's that when you get in here, this system is built to break you down like this. And it got to the point to where a few of the days, I would have to like put on regular clothes, because my mental health really was affected by it. And then also, my heart would pump a lot when I would walk past law enforcement because I was like, Okay, how are they going to take this? You know, and in Savannah, law enforcement, they post up very closely towards any business, because Savannah is a very small town. So if you walk in a bar, if you walk into a coffee shop, you walk into a restaurant or whatever, cop cars can be lined up right outside of it, and they can just be standing there. And I've walked past numerous amounts of them in that city. And none of them said anything or anything like that definitely got looks.
Alison Hall 18:28
Yeah, what would people's reactions be
Adam Jenkins 18:31
people's reactions, some people would come up and the majority, I would say, if it's 100%, the majority would come up to me. And they would say, Hey, man, I have a son or I have a daughter or I have an aunt or I have an uncle or mom or dad who's been in the system. And this really means a lot to me, can I take a picture of this, I really want them to see this, then there would be some people who and this was a small amount where we would go out. And I would be all the way on the other side of a bar and they'd be on the other side of the bar. And I've used my friends and they do their own group. And a couple times my friends have had to look at me and say Yo, can we just leave? Because apparently groups of people would look at me and take glass bottles in like act like they were gonna throw them at. And so yeah, I've had to leave establishments a few times because citizens just don't even realize like the the type of stereotype and bias that they're playing into, like you're, I'm wearing this so that you can remind yourself not to do what you're doing right now. But I don't even think they even noticed that. So yeah,
Kristen Vermetten 19:36
I think notably, well, for me, what was more frustrating that it was definitely for. I struggled with my anxiety when he was wearing the jumpsuit because I was constantly scanning for those over racists where they were going to be throwing a bottle behind the back or they were going to swerve the car to look like they were going to hit us. I was constantly on edge for that. But what shocks To me, was the small acts the white people who would say, what's the point? Or Oh, like, make jokes like, Oh, he's fresh out of pen or whatever, you know. And it was those microcosm effects that I was a lot more shocked by whether it was the grocery store or the coffee shop, or just in the street, where it was not only am I worried about these overt, you know, volatile, racist actions, but I'm also sitting there being confronted with the tiny parts where it goes to shows how systemically we still don't understand why someone wearing an orange jumpsuit is supposed to make you uncomfortable. And you asking what's the point? is the whole point of him wearing this into a coffee shop right now? is you need to sit with that yourself and say, What is the point? Why does this need to be brought up while I'm just enjoying my afternoon. But notably, the we were able to have a really productive conversation with law enforcement in Chicago while Adam was wearing the suit. And that was a moment I thought was going to be contentious. That completely turned into something beautiful, which is, I think, the theme of the majority of our experiences with the jumpsuit on for sure.
Alison Hall 21:20
Yeah, what what happened in Chicago?
Adam Jenkins 21:22
It was my 26th birthday. So we went up there. And we were going to see the beam. I want to say, yeah, the beam, right. Yeah. So I was so excited to go to the beach and hang out. And there was a lot of things going on at that time. It's very beautiful time. So upon going to the beach, there was a lot of law enforcement, I want to say maybe like SWAT level, because they were holding some heavy artillery. And so one of the guys when I was walking, he comes up to me, and he says, you know, that doesn't really help anybody. I stopped him. And I said, Can you please expound? He said, What do you mean, I'm like, well explain yourself, you can't just say blanket broad statements without giving detail. So he gives me all these reasons as to why it doesn't help anybody in his job, and cops are good, and all this other stuff. And while we're having the conversation, other cops are starting to like congregate around me. And then like people are starting to like congregate as well to see this conversation about what's going on. And the aesthetic of that alone is the point. Like, the point is to one, the inmate the jumpsuit, to me, represents breaking down one stereotypes, because Has anyone ever even seen a free black man outside of the system, wearing a jumpsuit walking around day by day to remind people that even though certain things are going on in our country, a good number of us are incarcerated, there are some of us who do want to stand in place of or even just sit here to say, Hey, I'm standing in place of my brothers and sisters who are within the system. And I think the way that even those other cops and even the congregation that was around to take pictures of whatever they were doing, the way that they had seen, this was just something that they'll go home and say, I have never seen something like this in my life. And that's where certain conversations about change start is first there has to be some form of awareness. If you're not aware of a problem, then you can't really get down to a solution of what the problem, you know of what that problem is. And so we were just talking, you know, and I and I had to tell him, I was like, this is the point, the point is for you to come up to me and have this conversation. And for people to see that black men are not animals like the media may want to portray. We're not we're not we do actually serve our communities in very positive ways. And we actually do want to innovate and change our worlds, or our microcosms of what our worlds can be a smaller degree and be productive to society. Because what the black man is, from from the majority standpoint and from historical standpoint has always been demonized, whether that was our narrative, our aesthetic, the way we treat our community, the way we treat our families. We've always been looked at as lesser than so to sit here and have some form of a conversation with law enforcement that everyone can sit here and see and say that it was peaceful. There was no violence he held his own he was able to converse properly with these law enforcement officers. It was just something that that that inherently breaks down certain unspoken walls that many people really don't discuss. So it was it was actually a pretty beneficial and productive experience. Honestly,
Alison Hall 24:42
you're describing this your birthday, a vacation. It sounds like a lovely time. But you also touched on the mental health toll that this takes on you I can only imagine truly because I've obviously never been in your shoes. Yeah, what it would feel like to put that jumpsuit on and become fronted with these conversations. Even if they turn out positive, every time you're, you're wearing it. And when you're celebrating your 26th birthday with your girlfriend in this great city, how did that affect your mental health? And did you ever think Hi, just want to take it off, and, you know, just enjoy my birthday, or events like that?
Kristen Vermetten 25:24
I'll get to that really quick, just because it deeply affected me. Um, I think again, going back to how it forced me to even look at my own bias in situations where I would always look at Adam and be like, Can we just go to the coffee shop? Can't we just go and do this, and it really frustrated me because I was like, Don't you understand my anxiety blocking next to you and wanting to protect you? The beautiful part of the evolution of being his partner in this situation is realizing that with or without the jumpsuit, Adam has anxiety about being a black man in america every single day. So me being uncomfortable with him with an orange jumpsuit on that should be the same discomfort I feel when we're walking past law enforcement in a protest or just down the street. It's all inclusive. And that was the greatest learning experience for me was that, yes, there was a toll on my emotional and mental health being the partner of someone who was you know, taking on this plight. But what's more important is how many black people are in living in this trauma every single day, and they don't get a break. They don't have the option to just not wear a jumpsuit. Yeah. And so whether he's going to the coffee shop with or without the jumpsuit on, he's still carrying the weight of his family, his ancestors, his people, his community with him everywhere that he goes. So I think, for me, it was definitely you know, hey, this is your birthday, let's celebrate, you know, why? Why do we have to do this, or I don't know, the neighborhoods we're going to be walking into and if this will, you know, parlay while into certain environments. And what I realized now is, again, doesn't matter the environment, the conversation has to be there, it has to meet people at their front door, or otherwise, it's just going to be a hashtag that they might retweet.
Adam Jenkins 27:21
And I mean, and I agree with that, too, because I think that, for one, if we're talking about the goal of anti racism, I think the first part of being anti racist is realizing that it is not incumbent upon minorities to end racism, you can't accept that first notion, then we can't really go down to the like, other bullet points of what needs to happen. You know what I mean?
Alison Hall 27:47
And Adam, I mean, how are you doing? I know, this 2020 has been really intense for so many people, especially African American people. But I mean, you've been an African American man your whole life. And what is it like to face the enormity of what's going on in this country on a daily basis, but then also take it on Additionally, by being an activist in this very bold way?
Adam Jenkins 28:15
I think, I think James Baldwin said it pretty correctly, where, you know, I'll just do it in kind of layman's terms where he said, you know, to be black, in America, and to be conscious is to be enraged. And every day you're having to speak to yourself in certain in certain ways that other people don't have to speak to themselves for, you know, you have to wake up and know that, okay, there's certain things I can do. And there's certain things I can't do this certain ways I can act in certain ways I can't act because if I do, I might play into this stereotype of what the majority of this country thinks I am. And the majority of the country with all of the like people, they get to wake up and be and say and become whoever they want to become. And for black people, there are there are certain things or minorities in general, too. There's just certain things that we kind of have to put in front of us before we can make those decisions. Those decisions aren't as easy for us to make. So as far as just kind of how I'm how I'm doing from a mental level or spiritual level. Truthfully, I'm tired. I am very, very tired. Like, I mean, no one's going to be able to see the bags under my eyes, but I've had, but I've had to wear some of crystals, like the What is it? The under IMS, or the or the ice spoons and the ice to try to get rid of certain things. But yeah, I'm tired. And I think a lot of us are I think we're seeing a lot of things repeat itself in history, just in certain ways. You know, I think history just shows that faces change, but the constant may not.
Kristen Vermetten 29:53
I think also, I'm going to piggyback off of your question to ask a question, but the jumpsuit completely We evolved in a way since May, that I don't think Adam could have anticipated where, you know, he was in Vanity Fair wearing the jumpsuit had all of these, you know, national publications, commenting on it. And all of a sudden that Superman cape that he was putting on was highly visible, highly recognizable. People were seeing it in a way that they hadn't before. So then the translation of how to wear the jumpsuit had to change again, where it was, it couldn't be an everyday situation, because he gets stopped. It couldn't be an everyday situation, even protesting, because we didn't want to put a target on his back. And that was another aspect of the inmate project that definitely evolved this year, where it wasn't just Adam can put this on and have a conversation in a coffee shop. It was, if I put this on where it's a lot more mechanical, where am I going? Who is going to be there? What is the environment going to be like? Because things became so dramatic over the summer concerning the issue.
Alison Hall 31:00
And yeah, I wanted to start talking about that you guys have been protesting all throughout 2020 since May, and you started off in the spring, wearing the jumpsuit up protests. Tell me about that and talk more about how that changed.
Adam Jenkins 31:17
So George Floyd, you know, we were all all of us. And I mean, all I don't think there's anybody in America who doesn't know about this story. But the George Floyd situation happened. And, you know, Friday, I want to say right, it was a Friday, Friday, there was the first the first Atlanta like protest, or whatever happened here. And some young ladies actually organized it. And I don't even think they had planned for like the amount of people who showed up to show up. And so we wound up going in certain things, and we finally got separated. Because I just felt like I needed to kind of take a walk. And, and honestly, just cry, I just kind of stepped away, it was me, a friend of ours and Kristen, who went down there. And I wound up just kind of like going on my own path for a little bit. And just kind of crying, because that was just something that I wanted to do. Because George Floyd looks like people in my family. upon those things happening. Certain things started to come out as far as like, oh, there's looting happening. Oh, there's rioting happening. And all these other things. Prior to all of these things that the media were trying to talk about. We went peacefully to the Capitol. And we spoke to i o there was some representatives and district representatives there and but certain people who should have come out to acknowledge the movement and what was going on did not I'll be it, maybe our, our Mary here, she didn't really come out of the office. Even though we were at Capitol, I don't really know where she was at that day, per se. But she didn't really come out to acknowledge and when I kind of looked around, we all kind of realized, like, so many people were enraged, and just we're sick and tired. For one, it was just a perfect storm I and I hate to say like perfect, but it was a perfect storm of we were all unemployed. You know, like, we were all on our on our last legs. Some of us had lost amazing jobs, some of us had just been completely furloughed, some of us just just found out like it was just so many things going on. So there was a lot of hurt and a lot of emotions going on all at the same time while seeing someone who looks like you treated this way by the government. And so after those things that kind of started to happen, and all this violence that everybody wants to talk about what was going on. I was out there, we were out there. And I wound up just kind of looking around me and seeing that there was so many emotions that I just like, lay flat on the ground. Just just to feel because I think feeling and compassion go hand in hand to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is suffering or who have who has suffered. And to me it was it was it was a moment of me saying I have to put myself in the shoes of his brother. And I'm sorry, I'm getting a little choked up about it. But uh, but um, it was it was just something that I'll never forget. When I did it. People just kind of stopped what they were doing or around and everybody started praying with one another. Everybody was just saying their stories about some of their friends or family who've been in the same situation but and there was a lot of love and a lot of peace that was around.
Alison Hall 34:37
I saw you describe at one point that the protests are like therapy. Do you identify with that as it is for you? Does it feel like therapy sometimes
Adam Jenkins 34:48
fully because I think that when when you are in a position of being of seeing hurt or being hurt, and the response is a protest what a protest to me is is really Just community. Because when you go out there, you realize that there are medics out here like civilian community, medics who have their own backpacks. We're like, Hey, are you good? Are you good? There's people out here passing out water, there's kids playing, there's people playing music. There's preachers and pastors and people just laying hands on one another, and praying for one another. And sometimes, in the media, it's funny how the media likes to just skew things a certain way for it to fit whatever narrative that they're trying to push. But ultimately, the people who are at these events, we all know this to be community, we all know this to be like minded individuals who sat at home, and were hurt, maybe in the same way or in a different way than you but hurt is still hurt regardless. And they had to come out here to commiserate, collectively, you know, because it's just at a point where we were all looking at our phones, or the computer or whatever we were watching. And we're like, I just can't sit home and deal with this and know that this is going on. And then you want that you wind up going out there and you find out that a lot of people are in the same situation as you as far as feeling the same way you feel.
Alison Hall 36:12
What do you guys think about I mean, this summer, some have deemed it the summer of racial reckoning. And, you know, people have really started focusing on anti racism work and on Black Lives Matter. And Black Lives Matter has been around for several years. Now. Anti racism should have been around for a long time, but it's really, there's a highlight on it right now. What do you guys make of it? Do you think that there's enough people doing the work that things are actually going to change? Are you optimistic? Or has this year made you realize just how bad things are?
Kristen Vermetten 36:51
I think for me, what started off as optimism has actually turned into unpacking the amount of work that's ahead of us. I was participating in the Black Lives Matter protests in 2016. I've definitely been actively trying to understand my walk with anti racist work for a while now. But what is frustrating is that although I don't think a lot of white people are inherently racist, what they don't understand is that their complacency towards things that are needed to break down the systemic oppression that black people have experienced. passivity can't, can't happen anymore. That passivity is why, you know, legislation has, you know, really dragged its feet as far as protecting black men and women, whether it's, you know, in health care, education, the judicial system, there's so much that needs to be put in place. And until we say, not next year, or next month, or next week, but today, it needs to change until everyone has that amount of energy. I'm not sure what type of change is even feasible. I think a lot of liberals and progressives think oh, well, we elected Obama into office or you know, we just, you know, got Kamala Harris's VP, we're doing the work that is, you know, very tip of the iceberg. That sort of snowflake on the iceberg of racism, and there's so much beneath the surface that needs to be unpacked still. And I, I think what hurt the most after protesting this summer is still hearing the What about them, and still hearing people pick and choose what aspects of black lives matter they could align themselves with, whether it's, oh, well, people just didn't have jobs. So they had the time to care. I was walking with doctors and lawyers and business owners. So I'm not sure what your timeframe is looking like. But I met people who definitely had packed schedules and chose to make it a priority to stand with black lives. I see a lot of people you know, who are like about the rioting or the looting. And then they'll quote Dr. King about what a peaceful protest should be like. And it was Martin Luther King who said a riot is the writing is the voices of the unheard. It's the language of the unheard. It's, you know, people who are screaming out and there's, you know, absolutely no fiscal security or, you know, resume building aspect of protesting. Like, this isn't something that you get to go to your job and say, Hey, I did this. So it's great that people are, you know, donating to nonprofits reading anti racist literature, but when it comes to actually showing up and saying not today, not ever again, that has to happen, and
Adam Jenkins 39:51
I think the I just like to build off of what she's saying, like the, the inputs of what you're saying is that I think what people have to ask themselves are, it's just what are you willing to risk? And anytime we talk about risk, everybody wants to go to the extreme. And for some people, it may be the extreme. But for most people it may be, are you willing to risk public perception, whether it's if someone says something in front of you, or you see something that does fall into the category of racism or prejudice? Are you willing to risk the relationship you have with this person who has said this, or the perception of you being a man or a woman who just said, Dude, that's racist, but now everybody in the room thinks you're Wilding out. Like you have to make these decisions consciously. And also, in another vein, when it just comes to protesting in general and certain things like that. I think that it's funny how like, it's funny how like science, we all here to science in life, and but when it comes to like, civil rights, or like racial, those things don't apply, like cause and effect happens every single day, no matter what you do, you put your hand on the stove, it burns, if you do this, this happens. And sometimes when we see racism, or we see things happen, we always want to talk about the looting, we want to talk about the rioting. But why are we not talking about the cause what caused these people to sit here and act out this way, we need to start kind of highlighting and applying science to everything we can't just like make science exempt to certain things, but only apply it to certain things that we want to apply it to. So I think that's also a part of it. And I also think that anger and rage needs to be championed in a certain way. Because to be human is to be happy, to be human is to be angry, to be human is to be enraged. So you cannot try to diminish certain emotions in people. When you deem it's necessary because you want to protect the building, or protect whatever people are trying to steal, oh, they're mad, they're stealing stuff, lock them up in jail. It's like no, let's talk about why they're doing this. Instead of only highlighting, hey, they stole some stuff from a building. So this is what we need to do. Because now you've let me know in the public, you care about inanimate objects and things that can be massively produced on a mass scale over George Floyd's life. Over Briana Taylor's life, people can't get back family, people can't get back sisters and wives and husbands. You know,
Kristen Vermetten 42:38
even just the trauma of families who showed up to protest. And, you know, I watched tanks pointed at little girls on their dad's shoulders and, you know, militant force flinging crowds of citizens and it's like, you wonder why things go left. But when people were showing up with a poster, and a mask, and maybe a water bottle are met with that type of opposition. It does ignite fear, it does. It does make you move differently. So if someone does act out of emotion, think about what they were facing.
Adam Jenkins 43:15
And we don't ever really talk about how law enforcement in these situations when they're supposed to keep the peace. They actually incite emotions out of people.
Alison Hall 43:24
You guys seem like you obviously have a very open relationship and that you're very much on the same page. But it's, I mean, obvious that you, Kristen, you are white. Adam, you are black. Are there times when you have to say to one another look like that's just not how it was for me, Kristen, like Traverse City. I love it. I've celebrated Thanksgiving there. It's such a wonderful place. It's like 93%. White, and now you're living in Georgia. And it's obviously much more of a diverse place. I mean, how do you guys navigate those tough conversations? Do you have to have those tough conversations together?
Kristen Vermetten 44:12
Definitely, we definitely have to have those conversations and even more so. Adams had to have a lot of tough conversations with my family. I grew up I think in a household that was not racist, but was definitely a proponent of colorblind ness and their approach where my parents were so you can't judge someone off of the color of your skin that I was just not supposed to see that. So I think the majority of my life, that is how I existed in spaces, I accepted everyone for who they were, but I wouldn't call someone black because I thought that was bad or I wouldn't call someone you know, aging. I thought that was bad. It was like I tried to stay away from those terms to describe someone living in Georgia. Um, Definitely took a turn in my understanding of racial relations in this country. I, you can't live in Savannah, Georgia and not see statues of slave owners or civil war, you know, heroes from down here. And it's so easy to walk past those squares or those monuments. And not think twice, but the second you read a plaque being from the north and thinking that oh my gosh, the Civil War is so far behind us civil rights is so far behind us. We've had a black president, we've triumphed. Being with someone and realizing that we haven't reached the end of that road is the biggest learning curve, I think, for me is that I thought that so much of the work had already been done. And it's almost intimidating to realize how much work is still left to be done. And at this point, I want to have those hard conversations because I refuse to be a passive partner. When it comes to racial relations, no matter where we are,
Adam Jenkins 46:07
harking back on the interracial relationship, it's funny to me, like, it's 2020 in this question is still like, relevant. You know, like, it's just like, I thought, like, Phil of the future said, like, 2020 would add, like flying cars, and like time traveling machines and stuff, it's it blows my mind. But racism to the point of it affecting a relationship would would fall into the Jim Crow era, type of laws. And truthfully, the Jim Crow era really wasn't that long ago, maybe about two or three people there. There's some parents who were born in the 50s. So some people's parents Remember, you know, minorities not being able to date with outside the race, or vice versa. Like that wasn't that long. If you think Yeah, grand scheme of time. I'm Savannah, Georgia, is one of his the old is not one of but it's the oldest city in Georgia. And knowing Georgia's history, when it comes down to Jim Crow, or slavery, and certain things like that, when you have been executing a certain form or way of life for decades, on end, you subconsciously conditioned your entire community into doing these things or being this way, even if you are moving into the 60s. And then the Civil Rights Act is coming. And the Housing Act is coming here. And we're starting to make America a much more free space. Just because you've been doing this, this this way, this long. people's minds aren't even like progressing or changing over to the fact that, oh, it's okay to date outside your race now, or Oh, it's not so taboo, to be Asian, and to be white, or to be black, and to be this. And all of these other things, I was brought up in a home, where my mom is one of the first women who were ordained for being an apostle in Savannah. So like societal norms, and for most people who are probably going to listen to this, I would love to see some people if you have the time go look at so even when it came to love, my mom always told me and she preached that you know, love doesn't really have a color Love is an emotion, whoever you you feel feelings for, and you want to give your heart to, that is what this emotion is about.
Kristen Vermetten 48:29
Um, I think it's really important as a white partner and an interracial relationship. It is not enough to just be with a partner, that's a different race, you have to create a space that is safe, therapeutic supportive, you have to do the active research on your own to understand what your partner is going through on a day to day basis. Because if you don't, it is simply fetishizing that that race or that person or that individual. And if you're not able to recognize that just being a partner isn't enough, then you got to reevaluate the work you're doing in your relationship because every black man or woman if they are trusting you with their, with their heart, and that way, it's an even bigger responsibility to take care and create a space that is able to lift up a lot of those souls that haven't gotten to experience that kind of safety before.
Alison Hall 49:33
And it's not on Adam to educate you, right? Or me, quite frankly, or anyone and I think, do you feel that sentiment that hey, it's not on me to educate you, whether it's your partner, your partner's family, your friends, people who stop you on the street if you're wearing your jumpsuit, or is there maybe a middle ground where you also feel like it's It's important to have these conversations and you want to share your experiences and thoughts.
Adam Jenkins 50:05
I agree with the sentiment that it isn't my job because it isn't. At this point, we again, we're in 2020, there's tons of YouTube videos, articles, Google, internet, you name it. Um, and I always in. And it's a, it's a small thing of just like, at this point. And again, I'm going back to James Baldwin again. And he even said, My father has went through racism, my father's father has went through racism. And now I'm going through, how much time do you need for your progress? You know, like, at this point, it's, it's, it's even a situation of me, I think there's two differences between because I hear people say this a lot, colorblind. And when I think of the word blind, I think of someone who is born a certain way, or was raised a certain way. But there becomes a point where you neglect because I think, to neglect is to consciously say, yeah, you are this, but I don't care. And we have to start kind of seeing the difference between the two, in my opinion. Yeah, I don't, I don't think it's any African Americans job or any minorities job at this point in history, where we are now to teach anybody. That's something that I think people have to consciously go out and want to do on their own. Because if you have the motor in your own heart, to want to try to find change, or to want to try to spawn change, it'll be much more authentic than me saying, Hey, this is what you need to do. Here's a list. And then it's like, okay, I checked off this one, I checked off this one, no, I want you to go home. And I want you to authentically want to change the community, and change this country for the better part of all minorities who are not benefiting this country in the same way as you are.
Kristen Vermetten 51:56
I had someone asked me what I care if I wasn't dating Adam. And that really, you know, hit me at my core, they basically were alluding to the fact of like, you know, you're not black like him. And the thing is, is I don't doesn't have to educate me just being next to him and experiencing what he goes through on a daily basis, the subtleties has been the most educational thing I could have asked for, I take pride when Adam has to be like, cool, your jets are a little too on fire about this. But for me, it's like, if if I can't utilize my privilege to benefit people, and I'm aware of this, I will never go back to being the same as I was before, whether I'm with a black partner, or I'm just me, Kristen, in my life. This is personal work. And although we are in an interracial relationship, all that's doing is enhancing my work and enhancing my process because I do get to view the subtleties of racism through his lens. But all in all, it doesn't change the fact that this work needs to be done by me anyways. And of course, I would still care whether I was with Adam or not.
Alison Hall 53:07
And and for you, Kristen, what is it that the media or the general public gets wrong? Like what is something that may be you feel sometimes represents your community, whether it's as a black man or as activists as protesters? What do you think needs to be corrected in people's perceptions?
Kristen Vermetten 53:33
I think the biggest thing is that whether it's someone who's like, I have cops in my family, or I'm white, and now I feel bad about myself, I think the biggest thing is to recognize that the objective and the goal is not to ostracize people. It's not to cut people down. It is literally just trying to include people who've been oppressed since the beginning of our country. And you know, I think that if people took that approach and realized that the protesting the you know, social media, circulations of, you know, different, you know, sentiments about racism, none of it is meant to put you in a corner to the point where you're afraid to ask a question, speak out, read a book, whatever you have to do. It is literally meant to be all inclusive. It is just trying to get people an added hand to get up to the table that was never afforded to them, for them to sit at. And I think that's my biggest thing is it's hard to do this work. And then to have to backtrack and make sure that people feel good about it. Because it's not about you feeling good right now. It's about you realizing that we need to be uncomfortable to make the world a better place for the next generation. And I think if more people realize that, that that this isn't approachable. topic, this is a conversational topic, I think maybe more white people wouldn't be so afraid to speak out. And they wouldn't be so afraid to ask questions, even if it's not to a black person, but to another white person, just Hey, what what do you think about this? Or, hey, we're in the classroom? How are we amplifying black voices outside of just Black History Month in February, and asking those questions that will be uncomfortable will be hard. But the goal is for everyone to come together and to have a better society because of it.
Adam Jenkins 55:31
Whether you're comfortable with what's going on or not, you have to realize that black people have coddled white fragility for a long time. And, and at this point, after being beaten, battered, bruised, and put in slavery and tossed around as if we have been, we were nothing as if we were anyways, after having gone through this, and still severe, resilient people, we don't have to sit here and like sugarcoat this to where you can consume this, the way that that makes you feel safe at night. Because at the end of the day, I heard one person saying, I'm not even trying to be, you know, as radical, as whatever. But I think the statement is true, which is be grateful in certain ways that we're not like wanting revenge. Because I think a lot of us have been in certain situations where we have had to get slapped in our face faces from an emotional or physical standpoint. And we still have to sit here and be model citizens. America has asked black people and minorities to be upstanding citizens far more so than the majority, even in the midst of oppression, suppression, and violence. And so I think that there just needs to be a level of understanding that we don't have to sugarcoat this anymore.
Kristen Vermetten 56:51
You said earlier, what are you willing to risk? Well, he's willing to risk everything every day that he puts this jumpsuit on just for your voice to be heard in that moment. And that's what's exciting moving forward.
Alison Hall 57:04
Guys, thank you so much. You are both just incredible. And I'm just so grateful that you took the time to share all of that with me. And I'm just in awe of both of you and Adam. I cannot wait to meet you in person one day.
Adam Jenkins 57:22
Thank you so much.