One Tyler man is challenging the topic of race relations head-on while social distancing.

Uriah Johnson has been hosting weekly Zoom meetings to talk about race relations and how people can love their neighbors.

Initially, Johnson began his meetings so that he could get some thoughts off his chest, but it quickly became about more than just that.

The meetings grew to encompass a small community of people with diverse opinions willing to openly share their thoughts on a hot button topic. The online meetings also served as an alternative way to further the conversation on racial justice and racism outside of participating in protests and demonstrations.

“For me personally, protests were not the best way to express how I’m feeling,” said Johnson, referring to the recent increase in Black Lives Matter protests after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. “I think there’s a lot of people who felt the same way.”

While Johnson said he believes in protesting, he wanted to get people to a place where they could communicate with one another in an amicable environment.

“Why don’t we get a group of people together, so we can talk?” Johnson said. “I can tell them about my experience as an African American growing up in Bullard, living in Tyler. I have other people share their experiences. Just talk and have a discussion. I think it’s a more effective way of doing it than just getting in arguments on social media.”

Johnson felt like the arguments happening online were unfruitful because they were impersonal. By hosting meetings on a platform where participants are able to speak to each other and look at one another in the eye, Johnson thinks that meaningful communication could be achieved.

“The George Floyd situation isn’t anything new in the Black community,” Johnson said. “I think with this one there’s a sense of outrage to it that people have finally just had enough. I’ve really used this as an opportunity to show people that these aren’t new conversations that we’ve been having.”

Johnson said although there’s a lot of questions, he’s providing a place where those questions might be answered.

“They’re multi-level and I don’t have all the answers, not one person has all the answers,” Johnson said. “I invite people with different viewpoints to join the meeting. I’ve heard if you want to make a change — if you want to get people together, it starts with relationships.”

Digital Multimedia Journalist

I love telling stories and making a difference in the people around me. Home-grown in East Texas, I have a Bachelors in Digital Media, and a Masters in Communication. Happily married to my wife Laura, and an active member of the Tyler community.

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