Tonight, the East Lansing City Council is expected to make a symbolic gesture that’s taken 50 years to materialize.
Prior to 1968, African-Americans were forbidden from buying homes in East Lansing. For decades, so-called restrictive covenants enforced by white-owned banks prevented blacks from securing home loans. East Lansing legally abolished this act of institutional racism just four days after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now, an essay written by a 15-year-old East Lansing High School freshman is prompting the city to issue a formal apology for its past.
WKAR’s Kevin Lavery spoke with Alex Hosey, the author of the essay entitled “Why I Sit.”
After my first basketball game of the season, I decided to sit for the national anthem before the game had started. My coach wanted to understand why, so he decided to come talk to me and my parents after the game. And we had a good conversation. He wanted me to be able to elaborate, so my parents were like, ‘hey, why not write an essay?’ So I wrote it and gave it to my coach, and he was like ‘wow, you should give it to somebody,’ and I said OK. And he took care of the rest, really.
(Was it) Something you’d been thinking about for a long time but maybe hadn’t articulated into words until that point?
Yeah. Honestly, since I was way younger, since like fifth grade I started to think about it more and more. This summer, I just got fed up with it and just, I started to think of ways that I could help or try and express myself, really so people would understand my perspective on it.
It’s only been 50 short years since housing discrimination based on color was outlawed in the city of East Lansing. How do you feel about the fact that this apology is now coming five decades later?
I wish it would’ve come sooner, but I’m glad it’s happening. It’s necessary to heal so that everybody will be able to get over things. I’m pretty sure there are certain people that are ‘salty,’ I should say, because they weren’t able to live here and they were forced to buy a house somewhere else or even leave the state because they wanted to actually get good housing and good schools.
One of my colleagues, Scott Pohl, spoke with East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows. He asked him why he thought it had taken so long for the city to issue this apology:
For us, I felt like it was an easy choice. And it may be easy to apologize many years afterwards. But for some reason, it always seems like there’s at least some portion of the community that is offended by the idea that since they were never really involved in it, they don’t want anybody to apologize. Well, I think it’s appropriate for us to (apologize). But that isn’t enough. It isn’t enough just to apologize.
I feel like that’s a lot of people’s view on many things. It’s like, when you’re a kid and if you’ve ever had a sibling, it’s like, they make a mess and your mom says, ‘clean it up.’ And you say, ‘but I didn’t do it; it’s not my fault.’ But you’re always taught to try and clean it up. You have to try and clean it up so the house can be clean. Why not just take a little part, a little increment, even if it’s not you.
Have you been surprised by the reaction to this essay?
You have no idea! I thought that...I never...I’m at a loss for words on how quickly this is happening. I thought it would take way longer than this. It’s been so amazing and everybody’s been so supportive that it’s special.
How do you feel about being a young man of color in 2018 living in East Lansing?
Man, I feel special. Because to think that 50 years ago, there was maybe a handful of blacks my age that were actually able to live here. Maybe college students or something...but people my age that are growing up in East Lansing? Just to think that now I’m able to do that...it just makes me happy.