This letter was written by Curtis Jenkins, president of Footie Mob, to the group’s members and has been made available to Dirty South Soccer for public release.
As a board, we thought we should make a statement about everything currently happening in our cities and communities. I can’t write that right now. I can’t ask them to put their names nor that of our organization to what I’m about to write. So this is me, writing this as an individual and weaving a bit of Footie Mob into the threads of it.
I’ve spent most of the last week vacillating between hyper-awareness and distraction. Ahmaud Arbery’s murder was horrific, but distant. It played out like a scene from a movie, desensitizing the violence. Breonna Taylor was in the middle of the night, carried out in an errant raid. Chris Cooper was up-close and personal. George Floyd’s murder was up-close and personal. They hit different. Seeing the indifference in the faces of Amy Cooper and Derek Chauvin was familiar. It’s one that I along with many other POC have seen at arm’s length, if not closer.
I’m sure myself along with every other Black and POC member of this group has stories that, before this past week, would have stretched many people’s ideas of credulity. It would have been seen as an impossible occurrence or an embellishment of reality. For us it’s a regular thing. In spaces most aren’t aware of, these stories are traded as therapy and hints for survival.
At least once a year I have a “random” interaction with police. Once I was leaving a friend’s birthday where we did karaoke on Buford Hwy. We decided to have an after party at someone’s house. I ended up driving by myself. When everyone else got on the expressway in their cars, I was pulled over in that lot next to the QT at Buford Hwy and 285, surrounded by multiple cop cars, a canine unit and questioned about trafficking drugs. I have my own drill for this taught by my parents; car off, service lights on, dome light on, hands on wheel, don’t reach for anything unless asked, do it slowly, announce what you are doing clearly, short answers of “yes” or “no” only. I have certain family members numbers memorized just in case. As a side note, I’m ecstatic that they store your auto insurance in their computer system now because it’s one less thing I have to reach for. The 20 or so minutes felt like eight lifetimes. I remember two things clear as day afterwards. I used to buy this vaguely fancy water from YDFM that came in a 6 pack with glass bottles. I had a bottle in the back seat behind me. One of the cops was 1000% sure I had an open container and wanted to search my car. The other thing I remember was finally getting to the party and a friend who had no idea what had happened asking “what took you so long?” But how do you explain existential terror at a birthday party where everyone is drinking and feeling good?
We all have stories like this, many have gotten way worse. I count myself extremely lucky to have only my pride wounded in any of these interactions.
I don’t think people understand the amount of calm that comes with peace of mind. Knowing that at a minimum, you’re safe and expected to be where ever you are. That you don’t have to do the mental calculus of making sure you are safe to exist in a space. I’ve always wanted FM to be that place for everyone, but especially people who look like me. To take that weight off of people for a few hours that week, where if nowhere else, there was a place outside their home where there is unquestioned acceptance of each person as a person, but not in spite of our differences, but because of them. We embrace our members for who they are without caveat or reservation. No matter your sex, gender, race, orientation, identity or political leanings, this is and will remain a place of acceptance. Because that is special. I see it on other’s faces. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
This isn’t about politics in a stadium, it’s about the right of an equitable existence outside of that stadium on a Tuesday during the off season. To have that right recognized by those who can take away that right with a phone call or a trigger.
We’re all here in this space because of a sport. Any list of favorite players will invariably include a few members of the larger African diaspora. If people are going to love the Pogbas, Bellos, or M’bappes of the world, you have to learn to respect the cultures that produce them. Regardless of nationality, black people share a kinship with them. The respect and admiration people have for them instills a pride in a community that lacks a historical national identity. We want that same respect by standing shoulder to shoulder with members of that community when we say we need help. Listening when we hurt. And doing so with no reservations. With sincerity.
I don’t know that any of us are truly okay right now.
I will say it’s heartening to see those of you who are offering full throated support. Seeing those who are next to the protesters. To see those who can’t protest, donating to worthy causes that support justice. I know that most of you wouldn’t be in this space with a board made up of mostly minorities and following us into games week after week and season after season if you didn’t see the value of us as human beings.