Derek Thompson

Derek Thompson is an activist in Portland, Oregon and the founder and Executive Director of Voices4Justice, an organization dedicated to bringing together concerned community members…clergy, law enforcement and elected officials…to engage in meaningful conversation that can change the relationship dynamic between opposing parties and factions.

Derek Thompson in Portland, Oregon.

“Even if we don’t get along, if I saw you fall in the street, should I laugh at you? Or should I go help you? I should go see if you need some help, because you’re a human. And then you can just go on about your business and I’ll go about my business. That’s easy. That’s really easy. It’s harder to hate than it is to love.”

I care. I care about everybody. I don’t care whether people are black or white or green or anything like that. I care,. Certainly I have a priority right now in my life. And that is for my people. Because of the ongoing racial injustice, disparity, all that kind of stuff that has been going on all my life and before my life. 

But since 2020, and I say with that public lynching, that convinced America, that there was a problem. Because there was a lot of Americans before that, and there’s still a lot now who believe there’s no problem. But that’s just, closed-minded ignorance. And I’m not saying that to be mean, but that’s just the way that I look at it. 

And now a lot of those eyes, even though they’re open, they still don’t know what they’re looking at or what or what to do next. What happened? What do we do next? What do we do now? Who do I go to? How do I do this? Because of all those questions, because of the confusion, because of the fear, it leaves that blank space open. People are looking for an answer to put there. There’s so many people who are in that position. Some people think they can’t do anything. Period. We all have something we can do to make things better. We all do.

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When you prune a plant, it doesn’t go away. You are getting rid of anything that would hinder it from growing. Thus over a period of time, it grows it flourishes, and it becomes bigger. That’s what the problem is in this country. We continually prune the racial problem until things get quiet. And then we perceive that it’s gone away or that it’s better, and it’s not. It’s festering. 

After Martin died, the country kind of started falling back into where it was before he started making any progress. In other words, the differences started started to come back. The differences that shouldn’t make any difference. Lyndon Johnson was smart enough to know that he needed to do something, but he wasn’t smart enough to know what to do, because first of all, he took it upon himself. What I mean is he sat down in a room with a bunch of white people trying to talk about how to fix us. That’s what people do right now. You think that you can sit behind a door, around a table with a bunch of people who look just like you. And none of ’em look like me. And you can figure out how to help us. 

How am I not at that table? 

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It’s encouraging that other people outside of my race, see that there’s a problem and realize there’s a problem and admit there’s a problem. It’s not encouraging to me as far as my race goes at all, because it’s just a repeat of what’s been going on for years and years and years. And every time it comes back around a few more of us wake up to it.

We’ve never had any real dialogue, even when they go and sit up in the White House. They don’t have any dialogue because their dialogue is too much rhetoric and legal mumbo jumbo. Real dialogue is conversation, not these big giant 15 syllable words and things that nobody understands. We have to have real dialogue. If you don’t hear a convincing story, then you’re gonna continue to live in this fantasy world that you’re living in. 

The guy that thinks that he is so racist, that he has to go and hide under this upside down ice cream cone, you know, that he calls a hood, with a couple holes in it. He has to hide behind that to do what he thinks he should be doing, because he’s not brave enough to come out. The point is, if he thinks that he hates me and people like me, guess what? It’s damaging him too. You know why? Because he spends all his time trying to figure out how to keep hating me. 

So caught up in that they don’t realize that that’s affecting them. So it affects everybody. It affects the one that lives so far away from this stuff that they feel it never happened to them because guess what? When they pick up the newspaper or they see their TV and it comes on today and it came on tomorrow and tomorrow and they get tired of hearing about it and guess what? It just affected you. We have to understand that it does not leave anybody untouched. 

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I am committed to this for the rest of my life and I’m serious. I know we can get there. Everybody? No, but we can get there. Is it gonna happen in my lifetime? No, but we can begin planting, cultivating, watering that seed for the next generation. Because that’s our job all the time as adults anyway, is to prepare the way for the next generation and teach them how to prepare the way for next generation. That’s how it’s gonna get better.

Derek Thompson interview

Discussion questions:

-How do you see the racial challenges that the United States faces?

-When did you first become aware of issues of race?

-Has your sense of history changed in recent years?

-When have you engaged in full and honest dialogue around issues of race?

-How have issues of race impacted you? Or those in your close circle?

-Where have you seen work around race be left undone?

-Do you have a sense of hope about our ability to address issues of race?

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