The Race Project: Elias Kelly and Diane Wright
The WYSO Race Project invites two everyday people from the Dayton area to talk about their life experiences through the prism of skin color. These conversations can be difficult and explore controversial views. But they also can build understanding and healing. In this iteration, we'll hear a conversation with Elias Kelly and Diane Wright.
Elias Kelly: My name is Elias Kelly; I'm a programmer, engineer and filmmaker. I'm from Yellow Springs and I'm Black.
Diane Wright: My name's Diane Wright, and I'm a 58-year-old white woman from Cincinnati. I'm an administrator in a really big center that provides treatment for people struggling with mental illness and addiction.
Elias Kelly: What's the first thing that you would teach someone if they were to come in to social work? What's one of the most important things that they should know?
Diane Wright Beginning for social workers that goes into every part of their lives. First, you engage with somebody; then you gather information. And only after you've done those two things, can you do some kind of intervention to help. Elias, what aspect of your race makes you the most proud?
Elias Kelly: I just came back from Egypt to do a pilgrimage, right? Something that's directly within the Egyptian bloodline of my family. But when I went over to Egypt, I realized how much of the culture was ingrained within me; even though I had never set foot on that soil before. And I feel like—if I went to Dublin or if I went to London, if I went to, you know, South America, there's something that's familiar to me about this. And so the aspect of my race that makes me the most proud is the fact that I am a mutt. I am a connection of all of these different ethnicities, which allows me to be able to see race as a construct. It's been very, very eye opening for me. And quite frankly, I feel like it's saved my life. Diane, where will racial issues go in the next 25 years?
Diane Wright: To be a social worker and to follow a code of ethics now means finding ways to be anti-racist. It was probably 20 years ago and I was at work, needed to go get money out of the ATM at lunch and I wanted to get $40 and I asked for $40 and two tens came out. So I went to the door and went into the bank. And there were five African-American folks obviously dressed for work, obviously waiting for somebody.
And I said, 'Did you guys try to go to the ATM?' And they were like, 'Yeah, tens instead of twenties?' I was like, 'Yeah.' So I got behind. I got behind them. The manager saw me. And came over to me and said, 'Ma'am, can I help you?' And I said, 'Yeah, I got tens instead of twenties like they did.' And he said, 'Oh, it really must have been loaded wrong.' And then he said, 'Come over with me and I'll help you.' And, you know, I felt myself turn beet red. And and I said, 'These folks were here before I was.' And it was almost like he like he woke up and and he said, 'Oh, oh, oh, right!'
And then helped them in order. But it was such a peek behind the curtain for me, 'Ohhh.' For me as a white person until it was in my face like that, you don't understand why. You know, when my friends will say, my white friends, when there's a shooting, a police shooting will say, 'Why can't they just not run? Why can't they just obey the law?' I feel, fortunate that I've had enough conversations to understand that if you're a Black man, you don't have good choices that I never had to learn because police played a different role in my life.
Elias Kelly: I've noticed now that when it is that when I interact with with police officers because I am still seen visually as a Black person and that is what it is they they go after. And I have that palate of tongue to be able to speak to who they are as an opening; I'll still get a ticket. You know? I'll still get a ticket. But, you know, it's there was a connection that happens with them. And it's also nice to bring up the fact that they're mandated underneath the color of law. And so now the palettes that we're speaking back and forth, we're connecting, and we'll take that back to the precinct. It's got to start there. It feels like it has to start there just because—I guess the showmanship of strength is to be so confident in your own [strength] that you do not mind others showing theirs.
Diane Wright: Elias, what a pleasure to meet you. I have appreciated your honesty and thoughtfulness about your answers. It's a gift to me to talk to you. Thank you.
Elias Kelly: I thank you so much as well. I love being around wisdom, so thank you for sharing it and awesome things.