Man who didn’t meet a person of color until his teens now leads whites joining fight for racial justice

On Dec. 15, 2016, SURJ-KC held a rally “We’re Not Going Back: Wyandotte County” in downtown Kansas City, Kan. With an open mic, people spoke. (Photo courtesy of Donna Young,SURJ-KC)

by Rebecca Tombaugh
Reporting artist

Joshua Hoffman, a white man, recalls the first time he was corrected by a person of color that he became frustrated.

Hurt.

And, quite frankly, defensive.

“I was trying to help,” he says.

Hoffman, of Kansas City, Kan., had gone to a community event about an environmental issue affecting people of color. There, he thought to himself, “They’ll listen to me.” After all, he knew the best way to proceed.

So, he got up and spoke.

“I stepped in and took the mic,” he says.

But later, he got an email from a friend, a person of color from the meeting, who told him that what he had done was not the best way to help, and, in fact, had derailed the people of color telling their own stories.

Hoffman sat on his feelings for a while, before he came to realize he had made the situation about himself.

“I was putting the focus on me,” he said. “But it’s not about me.”

Joshua Hoffman, at the December rally in downtown KCK. He says he did not meet a person of color until his teens. (Photo courtesy of Donna Young, SURJ-KC)

That was a turning point for Hoffman, who is one of the founders of the metro-wide group “Showing Up For Racial Justice-Kansas City.” The group is affiliated with the national organization of the same name. Its mission, “Through community organizing, mobilizing and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability.”

“It’s about connecting with people of color to make the world better,” says Hoffman. “We need to be accountable to those affected by this.”

Being accountable means having a group of people of color oversee what SURJ does, says Hoffman.

As an example, white people wanting to help may show up to protests and start saying “I’m sorry” to people of color because they feel guilty.

“It’s not about making ourselves feel good, but to make justice happen,” he says.

He says the point is to participate in protests out of love, not guilt.

Hoffman says the protests are not the end. He says white people have a further role to play.

“We have to change the laws, the curriculum, the power in society,” he says.

And, he notes people of color have been fighting for racial justice forever.

“White people are not doing something new,” he says. “We are just showing up.”

The first local SURJ meeting was held about a year ago with around 100 people showing up. Now, the meetings run up to 300 people. The meeting is a “welcoming place,” he says, and open to everyone. The focus is on white people, and how they collude with a racist system.

“White people must become aware,” he says. “It’s the job of white people to do that.”

The meetings rotate topics, including solidarity, personal support, building local institutions and education. From these topics, other groups have emerged, such as a feminist and neighborhood groups. SURJ participated in a rally in Kansas City, Kan., in December called “Not Going Back: Wyandotte County. The protesters took an open mic, and spoke. The group also joined forces alongside the Women’s Sister March on Washington downtown on the Missouri side, among others.

Hoffman says the group does not have training, no dues, and no formal funding. When a need arises, people chip in, for example, like buying supplies to make protest posters. Those in the group also pitched in from their own pockets to send money and supplies to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to help the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Locally, they donated to a group that provides basic supplies, like diapers, to women and children of color.

Becoming aware is a process, says Hoffman, and white people make a lot of mistakes along the way. If these mistakes are not addressed it can cause disruption, and hurt feelings.

“Being open to correction is part of that process,” he says.

“White people must become aware,” says Joshua Hoffman. (Photo by Rebecca Tombaugh)

Hoffman says the feeling of superiority is taught to white people. White people are supposed to be in charge. For example, a white boss is seen as successful, whereas a person of color as a boss may be questioned as legitimate.

“’White-ism’ is obsessed with control and power,” he says.

Hoffman points to his own upbringing. Hoffman grew up in rural Nebraska. He was 16, maybe 17, before he even met a person of color. He recalls as a teen hearing racist jokes, but didn’t know what they meant. Still, he began to repeat them, as a way to be part of the “in” group. Repeating the jokes made him feel “weird,” he says, but “everybody was doing it.”

Hoffman retold the jokes to feel powerful and have status. This created a category in his mind of “the other,” he says. This was reinforced with pictures in the media of black people, to the point he thought to “not be black.”

“This is totally racist,” he says.

But the “other” had already become part of his consciousness.

Hoffman says he is still in the process of un-learning and rejecting these ideas.

“It takes a lot of work,” he says.

Hoffman recalls another moment in his becoming aware. He was listening to two black DJ’s who were making fun of white people dancing or cooking. His initial reaction was “This is terrible! Isn’t this bigotry?” he asked his friend, a person of color. His friend explained that there was a big difference between bigotry and racism – that there is no shortage of prejudices, but when prejudices are combined with power — that is racism. What this means, says Hoffman, is a prejudiced boss won’t hire people of color, and landlords will not rent to people of color, as a few examples. All of this combined creates a racist system.

“That’s when I understood and the world opened up to me,” says Hoffman.

Hoffman says the SURJ meetings are filled with people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes. Child care is also provided.

He says there’s another good reason for white people to show up.

“We get to be part of humanity–it’s not just a dream,” he says. “We get to be part of making racial equality a reality and that’s a powerful human experience.”

Rebecca Tombaugh is a reporting artist in the Kansas City area. She is a former managing editor of the Kansas City Kansan.

There’s a lot of work ahead, says Joshua Hoffman, for racial justice, and white people have a role to play. (Photo by Rebecca Tombaugh)

About Standing Up for Racial Justice

Standing Up For Racial Justice meets on the third Monday of every month from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at St. Mark Hope and Peace Church, 3800 Troost, Kansas City, Mo. Those new to the group can go to a SURJ 101 orientation at 6:30 p.m.
On Facebook: SURJ-KC
Twitter: @SURJKansasCity
For more information about the national organization go to: www.showingupforracialjustice.org

Copyright 2017 by Rebecca Tombaugh

No. 9-ranked Highland women wear down Lady Blue Devils, 73-51

No. 9-ranked Highland provided big problems for KCKCC Saturday – 6-1 Mariane Carvalho (2) and 6-1 Sjonja Vukov, whose height proved difficult rebounding problems for the Blue Devils’ 5-11 Brie Tauai (22) and 5-10 Brooklyn Wagler (10). Highland won 73-51. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)


KCKCC sophomore Brooklyn Wagler had her way to the basket blocked by Highland’s Sjonja Vukov in the Blue Devils’ 73-51 loss Saturday. KCKCC sophomore Brie Tauia readied for a possible rebound. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)

The pace of a furious first half against No. 9 ranked Highland proved overwhelming for Kansas City Kansas Community College’s Lady Blue Devils Saturday.

Shooting 48.1 percent, the Blue Devils stayed within striking range of the lankier Scotties before the pace against Highland’s aggressive pressing defense simply wore down the Blue Devils and their roster of just eight players, holding KCKCC to just two second half field goals in a 73-51 loss.

The loss left KCKCC 5-4 in the Region VI standings and set up a pivotal game Wednesday at Fort Scott in the Blue Devils’ pursuit of opening playoff action at home March 4. A win over the Lady Greyhounds (3-6 and 15-7 overall) would assure KCKCC (17-10) of no worse than fourth place. Highland, meanwhile, improved to 23-3 overall and stayed within a game of league-leading Johnson County (9-1) at 8-2 in regional play.

Both Highland and KCKCC opened at breakneck speed Saturday with the Scotties aggressively pressing their way to a 28-20 first quarter lead and stretching it to 43-34 at halftime by making 14-of 25 shots for 56 percent including 5-of-8 3-pointers.

The fast pace took a toll on both teams but more so on the Blue Devils, who had more points in the first quarter (20) than in the second half (17) when they were just 2-of-18 shots for 11.1 percent. Highland, meanwhile, scored 30 points in the second half after posting 28 the first quarter and was just 11-of-33 in the second half.

With Highland boasting a pair of 6-1 All-American hopefuls, sophomore Szonja Vukov of Hungary, who was the player of the year last year, and Brazilian freshman Mariane Carvalho, the Blue Devils’ big concern was in stopping the ‘twin towers’ and did a good job of it, allowing them a combined 21 points and 17 rebounds. But the Scotties got eight 3-pointers from a talented array of guards to build their early lead.

“We did a lot of good things,” KCKCC coach Joe McKinstry said. “For the first three quarters I felt like we really were just a couple of scoring possessions away from it being a tight game, Our energy and awareness defensively was as good as it’s been all year. We wanted to force them to make outside shots and unfortunately, in the first half, they did.

“Offensively, our plan was to attack and I felt like (we) did that for the most part and had them in some foul trouble. But we didn’t capitalize at the free throw line (16-of-27) and then just got gassed. Anytime you only score two field goals in a half, it’s going to be awfully hard to win. We ran out of energy and when that happens, mistakes happen.”

Brie Tauai led the Blue Devils with 17 points and eight rebounds. Aeriel Holiday added 12 points on 4-of-5 three-pointers; Brooklyn Wagler had eight points, eight rebounds and four assists; Kayla Horn nine points; and Millie Shade seven rebounds.

Both teams had 11 turnovers in the rapid fire first half but Highland had just four the second half while KCKCC finished with 20. Fouls also handicapped both teams. KCKCC point guard Kayla Horn picked up her fourth foul midway through the second quarter but did not foul out, but Wagler did while Highland lost one player on fouls and had four others with four.

Blue Devils can’t overcome Highland’s 21-4 start in 63-56 loss

KCKCC sophomore guard Mike Lee puts up a layup over Highland’s Dontre English Saturday but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Scotties from taking a 63-56 win to pull to within one game of the first place Blue Devils. (KCKCC photo by Alan Hoskins)


by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC

Kansas City Kansas Community College dug a hole from which the Blue Devils could not escape in their pursuit of first ever Jayhawk Conference and Region VI championships Saturday.

Spotting Highland a 17-point lead in the first 11 minutes of play, the Blue Devils clawed their way back within three points but could never get the baskets necessary to prevent a 63-56 setback.

The loss snapped a 5-game KCKCC winning streak and left the Blue Devils (7-2) just one game ahead of Highland (6-3) and two games ahead of Johnson County (6-4) and Fort Scott (5-4) in Region VI play heading into the final three games of the season. KCKCC closes out at Fort Scott Wednesday and Labette Saturday before finishing at home a week from Wednesday against Johnson County while Highland hosts Brown Mackie and Fort Scott before closing at Labette.

In Jayhawk Conference play, however, KCKCC (3-2) trails Highland and Fort Scott, both of whom are 4-2. Just five teams compete for the Jayhawk title. Neither Hesston nor Brown Mackie are in the conference. Both KCKCC losses have come at the hands of Highland.

KCKCC didn’t get its second field goal of the game until the 9:03 mark of the first half and by then the Blue Devils were trailing Highland 21-4. Shooting 55.6 percent from the field, the Scotties led 36-22 at halftime and maintained a double digit lead until the Blue Devils made two closing rushes.

The first came after Highland had built a 45-28 lead in the second half. Three Mike Lee field goals including a 3-pointer and a trey and two free throws by Kellen Turner trimmed the Blue Devil deficit to 45-40 with 13 minutes left.

The second came five minutes later. Two field goals and two free throws by Jon Murray and a 3-pointer by Turner cut the Highland lead to 51-48 with 5:34 left but the Scotties quickly rebuilt the lead to seven and the closest the Blue Devils could get was 60-56 before going scoreless the final two minutes.

“Highland played well,” KCKCC coach Kelley Newton said. “In a nutshell, they played harder, were more aggressive, rebounded better and beat us to all the loose balls. It was very disappointing, especially on Sophomore Day, that we didn’t come out with more energy and play better. That’s my fault, allowing it to happen. We’ve got to make sure not to let it happen again.”

Murray, who leads Region VI in rebounding, led the Blue Devils with a double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Turner added 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Mike Lee and Donald Metoyer each chipped in with eight points and three assists.

Despite 1-of-10 shooting to start the game, the Blue Devils finished with 21-of-49 for 42.9 percent but they were without their usual 3-point offense. Limited to just 10 3-point tries, they made three while the Scotties were converting a half dozen – all in the first half – and shooting a crisp 50 percent overall. Four Scotties scored in double figures led by Stephon Jackson’s 21 points.