|Conversation with Mary Beth Nicholson
Mary is my little sister. She’s been very active in New Castle, Indiana, organizing events. She recently started the first Juneteenth celebration in the town’s history. Here is a link to the Henry County City Council meeting, where she spoke about recent events there. She starts talking at the 2 hours and 17-minute mark.
She sat down for an interview to give me an update about what happened and what she was doing. Here is the link to our conversation.
Speech Written by Melanie Wright to the New Castle City Council Members on July 30, 2020
Good evening. My name is Melanie Wright. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak tonight.
First off, I want to start with an apology to all of the Council members who may have been harassed by someone upset after reading my post about Mr. Gray’s behavior. I would never advocate for such behavior. All of my posts on this matter have been public, and you are free to read them. I would never encourage anyone to call you or harass you or threaten you. I would not engage in that behavior myself, and I certainly don’t tolerate it or condone it from others. When it comes to acceptable and unacceptable behavior, I set my standard high, and I hold those around me to that same standard. To those of you who have received hateful phone calls, messages, or emails, through this process, I am truly sorry.
I know there have been a lot of comments about my intentions over the past three weeks. Let me assure you I am here for one reason and one reason only; to request Kenon Gray’s resignation. Over the past three weeks, Mr. Gray has shown his character is not conducive to that of a community representative. He has shown he is unwilling to acknowledge and learn from his mistakes. Many members of this community have been hurt by Mr. Gray’s behavior, yet he still maintains his behavior is no more than political satire. Mr. Gray…there are many, many people who respectfully disagree.
At the beginning of the packet you have all been given, there are photos of the divisive memes that comprised some of Mr. Gray’s posts. I will allow you to look at them on your own. Next, in the packet, you will find some of the comments from community members. Although I didn’t provide all of them, I feel as though there are enough to pick up on a general theme; many people have reached out Mr. Gray about his Facebook presence, specifically his presence as a Council member, and have asked him to stop posting inappropriate memes to no avail. You will also notice several people who have had to unfollow, unfriend, and/ or block Mr. Gray. In the packet, you will also find Mr. Gray’s response to constituents asking about his posts (which we will discuss momentarily), and the signatures and comments from the online petition.
I have heard over and over that all of the memes are political, except for that one about all black people getting welfare. So let’s just focus on that meme for a minute. Even if you believe that all of the other memes are an appropriate representation of you, your Council, and this community, there is still that one, glaringly racist meme about black people and welfare. This is the meme that, for me, hurts the most. You see, I have a biracial son, and Kenon has publicly stated that my son and my son’s people are all welfare recipients simply because they are black. Now I would venture to say some of you on the Council have children, even grandchildren, and some of those children and grandchildren are probably white. I would also venture to guess that none of you have ever had to read a meme implying your white child gets welfare, and for that, you should feel privileged. I can speak to how bad it hurts to have your child regarded in such a manner, thanks to Mr. Gray.
Now if you are one who subscribes to the idea that only one of Mr. Gray’s posts is inappropriate, and you believe that he deserves the benefit of the doubt, I would like to ask how many inappropriate posts is too many for you? You have read community comments on how long Mr. Gray has engaged in this behavior. How many racially insensitive posts does my child have to put up with before you acknowledge the seriousness of this behavior? Please give me a number so I can start keeping track. How many posts will it take for enough to be enough?
Social Media Presence
Let’s take a minute to compare your social media presence to Mr. Gray’s social media presence. Do you make it a habit to regularly making inflammatory posts on social media? Do you spend hours, even days, arguing with constituents as to why your point of view is the only correct view? Do you call constituents names like leftists, the liberal mob, Marxist, trolls, minions when they don’t agree with you? After arguing back and forth and name-calling, do you then just block your constituents? If community members got upset about your behavior, would you take time away from a family vacation to make a post about haters hatin’ on you? Not only do I bet your answer is no to all of those questions, but I also bet you don’t do those things because you consider that behavior unbecoming of an elected official. If that is the case, why the reluctance to hold your peer accountable for doing those exact same things? Remember, in Mr. Gray’s front-page “apology”, he stated he cannot “resist temptation” when it comes to engaging in such behavior on social media. By his own admission, it’s a pattern of behavior he can’t help but repeat.
And while we are discussing character flaws, let’s review Mr. Gray’s behavior in the aftermath of this situation. On the morning of Friday, July 10th, I received a couple of messages from people concerned about a post Mr. Gray made on his FB page. I was not friends with him on either of his pages, but since they were both completely public, I was able to look through his posts. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. As I was looking through Mr. Gray’s pages, I was getting message after message from people who were attempting to have a conversation with Mr. Gray about his posts, to wit he was replying “truth hurts”, “you’re just a Marxist”, etc. Having worked with Mr. Gray in the past, I decided to reach out to him as well to ask him about his social media posts. Mr. Gray’s immediate response to my concerns was that I was only upset because his posts spoke the truth. I then sent him a message attaching the meme about black people getting welfare. I asked him if he knew the actual statistics of welfare recipients. His response was that I was a part of the “liberal mob,” and then he blocked me. I was shocked. There was no willingness on his part to listen to anything I had to say. No openness to try and see how hurtful his memes were. His response was he was right, and he didn’t have to listen to me at all.
It was later that same day when Kenon made the infamous “enjoying vacay while true haters hate on me from afar. The cleanest examples of hate…” post. On the next day, Saturday the 11th, Mr. Gray removed his social media pages. I can only assume he removed them due to the backlash he was receiving from concerned citizens. On Monday, July 13th, Kenon sent emails to citizens who had reached out about their concern over his social media posts, stating that he didn’t know what posts people were concerned about, and he was worried he may have been hacked. We now know he used his County Councilman email to flat out lie to constituents, as his newspaper apology acknowledged he knew what posts were being questioned, and he knew he had made those posts himself. On Tuesday, as a response to the newspaper article about the Change.org petition, Mr. Gray said he had just returned from vacation and was being quarantined for fourteen days. Apparently, that was another lie because two days later, Kenon was at the Planning Commission meeting.
Mr. Gray has shown that when he is backed into a corner because of his own behavior, he has no problem flat out lying to try and cover his tracks. He does not hold himself accountable. He is not open and honest like all of you. He is a dishonest man. A dishonest man who is representing all of you. Madam President, this is your Council. Don’t you expect more from your Council members? Ultimately, how you lead this Council will become a part of your legacy. I can’t say it enough; you should be holding this dishonest man to the same standards in which you hold yourself.
I started my message by saying I want to see Kenon resign. After everything that has happened, all of the posts that have been shared, and the fact that he used his County Council email to blatantly lie to constituents, how could he not resign? If Mr. Gray truly valued our community, he would resign his position. He has made public post after post lumping groups of people together in a detrimental manner. He has divided our community. He has admitted on the front page of the paper that he cannot “resist temptation” with regard to his social media presence. Is that someone you want as your colleague? Someone who acknowledges he does not have the self-control to stop “stirring the pot” and dividing our community? With the state of our county budget and the work you all have ahead of you, do you really want to keep wasting time and energy defending someone who opening acknowledges they can’t help but behave in this manner?
Resign or Censure
In lieu of Mr. Gray’s resignation, I strongly urge the Council to publicly censure him. If for no other reason than damage control. From now on, whenever anyone searches Councilman Gray’s name, his questionable behavior on social media is going to be what they find. His posts certainly cast a dark cloud over our community. You, ladies and gentlemen of the Council, have the chance to fix that. You can publicly censure Kenon. You can make sure that when someone comes across his social media posts, they will also come across a public statement made by you, stating that you do not condone his behavior, nor does his behavior represent our community. You have the opportunity to right this wrong. You have the opportunity to send a message that our community is one of inclusivity. You have to opportunity to hold your colleague to the same standard in which you hold yourself. I challenge you to do the right thing here. Make a statement loud and clear. You will not stand for your community, your county, your Council, or yourself to be publicly represented in such a manner.
Please do not let Mr. Gray continue to divide this community. We deserve leaders who try to address conflict in the community by finding a common ground and areas of give and take. We deserve leaders who are open-minded and willing to listen to both sides of the coin. We do not deserve someone who cannot resist the temptation to keep us divided. I know we may represent different parties and different ideologies, but it should always be the goal to come together in the end. Unfortunately, it has become clear that is not Mr. Gray’s goal.
As I get close to ending my statement, I would like to tell two brief stories. When my 6-year old son was around 9 months old, during a trip to Kroger, my son, myself, and my son’s father encountered a lady near the register who accosted us. A lady who told me I was going to hell for mixing races and creating a devil baby. A woman who, in the name of GOD, called me terrible names, called my son terrible names and told the father of my son he needed to go back to Africa. As I stand here thinking about that day, I not only remember the lady who said the terrible things to my family, but I also remember the people who stood around listening, condoning her behavior through their silence.
Fast forward a couple of years. My son is 2 years old. We are at a local restaurant enjoying lunch. My son’s father gets up to use the restroom, and immediately a well-known farmer in the area approaches me and asks me why I would want to date a black man. He says black men are lazy, worthless, and make terrible fathers. He says I should have never chosen to have a child with a black man and that it would end up being a decision I regretted for the rest of my life. He then looked at my 2-year old son and said he was sorry his dad was going to end up being such a disappointment.
I tell you those stories for two reasons; 1. We certainly have a race problem in our community, and 2. When “leaders” like Mr. Gray make such divisive and inappropriate posts, people in this community, his constituents, your constituents, feel justified in engaging in racially-motivated behaviors. They look at Kenon’s posts as validation for their hatred of certain groups of people. They feel as though they can rationalize their behavior because, after all, Kenon does it.
The last thing I want to say is things would have looked very different in our community over the past three weeks if Mr. Gray would have just been open enough to say, “I genuinely don’t know why this post is offensive to you, but as your leader, your elected official, I am willing to have a conversation about it and consider your point of view.” But he did not. Because, again, he cannot resist temptation.
Thank you for your time.
Nugget of the Month
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu