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Race Project: Cheryl Durgans and Asa Hurwitz

James Fields IV

The WYSO Race Project invites two everyday people from the Miami Valley 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. Today, we'll hear a conversation with Cheryl Durgans and Aza Hurwitz.

Cheryl: My name is Cheryl Durgans. I grew up in Yellow Springs. I am African-American, by the way. I'm also an editor for the small town paper.

Aza: My name is Asa Hurwitz. I am 23 years old and I am a white woman from a small town in southwest Ohio. And I have lived there basically my entire life outside of going to college in Richmond, Indiana, for the past four years.

Cheryl: Aza, have you ever felt different in a group setting because of your race?

Aza: When I was a freshman, on my very first day of classes, my professor, she asked everyone to look around you and say what we see.

Cheryl: Hmm.

Aza: And we all kind of were, like, dumbfounded. We were like, what? What are we supposed to say about this? And she said, “I see three people of color in a class of 30 people.” And she was like, “You should all notice how much privilege you have in this classroom, that this is not a diverse class. And we're here talking about identities and social movements.” That is what really changed the way I see myself in a room. And since then, I have paid way more attention.

So, Cheryl, I'm curious what you think it would look like if this small town of Yellow Springs was a safe culture to be in, for you?

Cheryl: It's complicated for a black girl to live here. It's a lot to do with, quote unquote, white liberalism. And the idea that people think that they are less racist than they are. And so it's an issue of microaggressions. I went to an HBCU growing up. When I graduated from here, I went to Spelman College. It was an HBCU women's college. And I felt seen for the first time in my life. And I think that that has helped anchor some of the, quote unquote, I would say some somewhat resentment that I feel living in the community that I live in now.

Aza: That's really dangerous. It's really dangerous to forget, especially as a white woman, that I can do a lot of damage. And, you know, to forget that means to forget about my community members and to forget about my neighbors that I love dearly. And I'm just really hoping that we can kind of as a community, do this reckoning together.

How does being African-American enter into your process of making important daily decisions?

Cheryl: I'm the first African-American editor for the newspaper. I know that there are things that I cannot do, say, respond to, act in the way that my counterparts and predecessors could. I have to make sure that my tone is always even, because I get tone policed a lot. And if I over exhibit anger or any kind of like emotion, then it gets questioned or gaslit into something else.

Aza: After the murder of George Floyd, like, people of all races in Yellow Springs came together for protests. And I thought it was a really great show of the nature of like, the foundational nature of our community. Now, I'm curious, how would you want to see young people be allies?

Cheryl: So one of the things that I think is really brilliant or has been brilliant about Yellow Springs, is that Yellow Springs has, in some way, shape or form, always valued young people and always valued seniors. And that is a way in which, at least for me as an African-American woman, I can center a cultural identity in this community. It speaks to a strong value about how you love and care for your community and the people in your community.

Aza: That's so beautiful.

Cheryl: Thank you so much, this has really been an experience I will really cherish for a while.

Aza: Yeah, likewise Cheryl. Thank you.