'There is a reason that people are protesting in the streets': Black-owned Raleigh business owner preaches understanding as she rebuilds

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Valerie Fields appreciates history, especially what remains visible along South Blount Street in Raleigh's historic Prince Hall district.

The once vibrant Black business district is a short distance from Shaw University. But now, after she and her husband used money from a Raleigh Building Uplift grant to renovate her PR business, she's still upset about what was caught on film over the weekend.

"The camera at the front of the building showed me broken glass all over the sidewalk. And I knew then that our building had been targeted as well," she said.

That's some of the damage left when a protest devolved after crowds gathered to mourn George Floyd. Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25 when former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for eight minutes and 42 seconds. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder in Floyd's death.

"I have mixed emotions," Fields said, "because I understand the frustration behind the protest that then devolved into what tended to be more violent activity. So I'm glad that this conversation is getting the national focus that it deserves. And it's been long overdue. We're talking past each other, we're talking at each other instead of listening to each, as a community. We're just waiting for the thing we want to say, in response to what's been said. And so we go right past the big issue of racial injustice and we go straight to monetary damages and property damages."

And now it's time to talk, listen and act, Fields said.

"It is a difficult conversation, it is an inconvenient conversation and it is an uncomfortable situation," she said. "But it is one that will require systematic, fundamental change on all levels, and we're all going to have to be a part of that. I start every conversation with 'seek not to be understood, but to understand.' There is a reason that people are protesting in the streets. There is a reason that people are throwing bricks and rocks through windows. Now certainly, there are some bad actors mixed into those protesters, who just maybe have a temporary, selfish desire for material gain. But the majority of people out there who are marching, protesting and carrying signs are hurting because this nation has systematically oppressed people for centuries. And we are now just seeing it bubble back to the surface."

Saving lives is more important than saving windows, she said. "And so I can be less angry about the property damage because that I can replace. What I can't do is be okay with a country that devalues, demonizes and dehumanizes individuals, and we don't respond to that."

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Fields said addressing the root cause of the issues is the best way to create change.

"If you build a beautiful home on a broken foundation you will always deal with foundation problems," Field said. "So until we're willing to deal with the foundation of systemic racism, and discrimination and oppression, this house will be unstable. So it's not enough to say that you have Black friends or your family didn't own slaves. The reality is, we're all here together."

She also made this comparison, "The Black population in America is 13 percent, so the solutions will never solely come from the Black community. It takes everyone at the table to talk about how we talk to each other, how we treat each other. The things that we think about each other. The policies, hiring, training, recruitment. Everything. It has to change on every single level."

"Laws will need to be changed," she said. "Hearts, minds and attitudes will need to be changed. It is not something that will be fixed overnight because it didn't happen overnight. This has been a systemic, growing problem that is just now getting the attention, around the world, that it deserves."
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