Local panel takes on racism, offers solutions

Locals took part in a panel, put on by Ohio State University, on Tuesday night discussing what racism looks like in Portsmouth. Photo by Patrick Keck.

PORTSMOUTH — Maureen Cadogan, Executive Director of Operation Safety Net and the Scioto County Homeless and Pandemic shelters, says she has lived with racism for as long as she can remember.

She recalls going to the grocery store with her grandmother as a toddler, where she was offered a bit of advice.

“When you go into the store, put your hands in your pockets and if you don’t have pockets, put your hands behind your back,” she said, detailing what her grandma told her. “Why would you tell a child that, just walking in a store?”

The answer she says is because she is Black, where a false stereotype of thievery is attached with her race. Incidents like these have been common throughout her childhood and were indicative of the times.

“Unless you strive harder and set the benchmark so high, you’ll always be on the outside looking in,” Maureen’s parents told her. “You’ll never be able to make it in this world.”

That world has shaped both Maureen’s, her son Gerald’s, and other panelists’ livelihoods as they discussed during a Tuesday virtual panel hosted by Ohio State University’s Center for Folklore Studies.

Gerald Cadogan, Shawnee State University swimming head coach, said his bouts with racism have differed in some ways from his mom’s and grandparents.’ Still, they have happened to him both locally and across the country.

“Things have gotten better, but not totally,” he said, also an organizer with the recently formed Portsmouth Unity Project.

Just as his mom had to take extra precautions at stores as a child, Gerald accounted times where he was followed as he shopped and later having to show his receipt as he walked out the doors.

“I could be leaving with one item and my receipt in-hand and someone else could be leaving with a whole buggy full of items,” he said. “That’s all predicated on the color of your skin and that’s not fair at all.”

Racism has seeped its way onto the playing field, he said both as a football player and later as a coach. When being recruited to play for Penn State University, where he later double majored in psychology and rehabilitation services, his grades were questioned but never his athletic ability.

That question was not posed to the guy next to him- a white quarterback.

“I had to be informed of my blackness before I even realized it,” he said, where he did attend PSU, graduated third in his class and was a consensus first All-Big Ten offensive tackle in 2008. “Before I realized I was Black, I was told that you are Black and this is how the world perceives you.”

More recently, while coaching the Portsmouth High School boys track team, he had to keep both his and his athletes’ composure when a visiting team hurled out racial epithets at them.

“They got so irate,” Gerald said, describing his team’s reaction. “When you hear it, just bite your tongue and show them. You’re faster than them, so you don’t have to fight them or be angry. Fighting is going to do anything, except getting you suspended.”

“In that moment, I was so mad because I could see the hurt in their eyes and they were judged based on their skin tone,” he added. “That is why I’m here in Portsmouth, that’s my mission while I’m in this community is to change that.”

Gerald’s mission is similar to that of Drew Carter, co-founder of Watch Me Grow Ohio. Carter, while living on the city’s east end, remembered walking to Wilson Elementary with his mom when one time a man yelled at them.

The term was not one Carter as a kindergartner was familiar with, but he could tell he was angry and his mother tensed up when it was uttered. He tried making sense of it and ultimately asked her what it meant.

“Just remember you’re not what he’s calling us,” Carter recalled his mother telling him.

Later, after returning from North Carolina and having a better understanding of what racism truly was, he still encountered it while attempting to take college preparatory courses and just simply while walking around town.

“You had to learn to just blow it off because that’s not me and they are just ignorant,” Carter said.

While the eradication of racism and ignorance is improbable, to say the least, the panel still believes progress can and should be made. They surmised that sharing their instances with discrimination, along with taking active steps in the community can provide a better path for future generations.

Maureen, Gerald, and Carter have all taken roles in tackling the issue through education and creating organizations that strive to bring people of varying backgrounds together.

“We live in a very beautiful place and it can be a more beautiful place if people act like they had some sense and respected each other,” said Carter, who started the Portsmouth Block Party.

During the protests against police brutality last year, Gerald was out for a run when he saw the Portsmouth Police Chief Debra Brewer. Realizing he had a choice, either to keep his distance or to say hello, he chose the latter.

They’re a great conversation unfolded, he said, where he thanked Brewer for the work the department does.

“I think part of the change in this country is having those conversations, not being afraid of it and the understanding that you may not know it all,” he said.

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.