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Man who grew up during civil rights movement optimistic protests will bring change

Posted at 4:59 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 17:03:30-04

DALLAS, Texas – At the age of 70, John Jenkins has seen his fair share of the world.

He is easygoing as he wears an untucked plaid button-down shirt underneath the warming Dallas sun, but deliberate in what he says.

"I’ve run into things in my 60s that I ran into in my 20s,” he says as he reclines in a chair that sits in the shade of one of the area’s public library courtyards.

It’s 9:30 a.m. John has lived in Texas for the majority of his life and says if we don’t get inside by 11 a.m., it will be too hot to conduct our interview, so we get right to the point.

"When you look at what’s going on now in our country, and what you dealt with back in the day, how far, if at all, do you feel like we’ve come as a society in abolishing racism and being more inclusive?” asked reporter Dan Grossman.

"As the song goes, we’ve come a mighty long way, but yet we have a long way to go,” Jenkins replied.

As a black man, Jenkins grew up along Texas’ Gulf Coast in the town of Hitchcock, which sits 15 miles west of Galveston. He remembers growing up in a time much different than the one we are currently in, but oddly similar in some ways.

“I remember my dad going to certain stores because his money was only good at certain stores,” he said. “Sometimes you’re better off when they say we don’t serve people like you. We say it’s not as bad as it used to be but then you still run into it.”

For 48 years of his life, Jenkins worked in the news industry as a photographer as well as assistant new director until he retired in 2016. He says of all the stories he covered, he remembers one in particular, which took place in Dallas when he was 22.

“Santos Rodriguez was an 11 or 12-year-old boy who was accused of stealing from a service station,” Jenkins recalled. “The cops had him on the back of the car trying to get a confession out of him. An officer named Darrell Cane thought he’d be smart, and he emptied his gun, so he thought, and put it to the kid’s head. Cane thought it was empty and he pulled the trigger and he blew the kid’s head off.”

Jenkins says he cried as he pointed his camera lens towards the crime scene.

“There are some names you will never forget,” Jenkins said. “I think about him every day.”

Jenkins says the memory is particularly vivid in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“I think if you sit in the homes of black folks, they’ll just sit and say, ‘Wow. Been there, done that, we’ve seen it before.’”

John says he still sees it to this day. He says he refuses to go to one area mall because of the way people look at him. He says while racial tensions might not be as overt as they used to be, they are still evident in everyday life as they are getting documented more than ever before.

“This is the most valuable tool you can have,” Jenkins said holding up his phone. “Without this, life would be the same and we’d be going, ‘Hey man, the cops are beating me up and they stomped me and they did that, and you’d go, ‘Well, what did you do?' Even supporters had doubts, but 8 minutes and 40 seconds [of the George Floyd video]? There is no doubt.”

John says it’s why he thinks we are seeing what we are seeing with the nationwide protests in response to Floyd’s death. It’s why he’s also hopeful that this time things might actually change.

"You’re going to learn you’re more alike than you’re different,” he said. “I think if we just stop trying to be different and we realize that we’re alike.”