John C.K. Fisher, Human Rights Specialist for the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, provided training for the Maysville HRC and representatives from other area agencies on Wednesday at the Maysville Conference Center.
Mr. Fisher, formerly a reporter for Cincinnati/Kentucky Post, explained the attendees how he came to “love me some Maysville.” In the wake of the 1995 terrorist attack on the Alfred C. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, Fisher was tasked with investigating reported militia activity in Northern Kentucky and was given an assignment to interview a man in Carlisle.
After a long drive to an unfamiliar town, Fisher talked the man into speaking to him and they engaged in a lengthy interview. Finally, sometime after midnight, Fisher headed back to Covington. “When I got to Maysville, I looked up to get my bearings, and what I saw was Martin Luther King Boulevard. And I said, ‘Where the hell did that come from? Martin Luther King Boulevard in Maysville, Kentucky?’ I said, ‘Wow, what is that? What is that?’”
“And I can tell you back in 1995 there was no other city in northern Kentucky, not Covington, not Newport, not anywhere else that had Martin Luther King Boulevard. And what that did for me … like in the Underground Railroad, if a slave was escaping he could tell a place was friendly if they had two candles in the window … they might get food there. It illuminated their life and gave them some reprieve. When I saw that Martin Luther King Boulevard, that was the reprieve for me as a black man driving through northern Kentucky at one o’clock in the morning. … I felt very welcome here because somebody had the foresight to put that sign out there, and that told me that the people of Maysville were working together to make this a better community for all people.”
Fisher went on to talk about how Maysville native Nick Clooney and his son George Clooney had both been nominated to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, but Nick alone was inducted because he was well known for recruiting and training black reporters at Channel 12 in Cincinnati as well as doing stories about minority communities in the Cincinnati area.
“Nick had a reputation as a quiet humanitarian,” Fisher said. “That’s not to downplay what George has done around the world, but they said, ‘Nick is a Kentucky boy and we want him in the Civil Rights Hall of Fame.’ That’s another reason I love me some Maysville.”
Fisher talked about how the idea of “not seeing color” ignores the experiences and skills that people of different races, ethnicities and life experiences can bring to a situation. He also stressed the importance of having discussions and not debates because “when we have a discussion we’re trying to learn from each other. When you debate, you’re trying to one-up the other person.”
In addressing high profile police shooting incidents, Fisher outlined four elements to police working with minority communities: Respect, leadership, accountability, and justice. The community needs to respect police, but police need to extend respect to members of minority communities. Police are “the ones with the guns. They’re the ones with the power of life and death,” said Fisher. “They need to extend the respect they give other people to the black community. That respect, in turn, will lead to trust.”
When something does go wrong, as in Ferguson, Missouri, leaders need to step up, make appropriate changes and hold those involved accountable. Finally, the community needs to see that justice has been done.
Fisher stressed that there can’t be one protest or one march and everything is solved. “We have to understand that this is a continuum of working for justice,” he said.
He told a story about his daughter who defused a racially tense situation as a teen and how he wished he could say he told her what to say that day, but she did it on her own. She later went on to attend Smith College and New York University Law School before going to work for Southern Poverty Law Center. “So the youth can lead us,” he said, “and they can take this to another place that we as adults need to go.”
“I would like for us to view our youth not as a problem but as a solution. There is this professor at Eastern Kentucky University. He would speak to young black men and he would say, ‘We need to look at our youth as prospects and not as suspects and they got to look at themselves as prospects and not suspects. I would also extend that to Latinos, to Muslims, to any group that’s in a minority because things won’t change until the majority stands up for the minorities.”