Announcer: Hey, just a warning before we get started: this episode of Resistance deals with some heavy themes and some strong language in it. We’ll get started right after this short break.
Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.: The town of Harvard, Nebraska, has a population of about a thousand people. They got one bank, one bar, one school, and one Black man.
Jermaine Guinyard: As far as the only Black man and only family of color in Harvard, I'm it, man. You're looking at him right now, man.
Jermaine Guinyard: This is the house of the one Black family in Harvard, Nebraska.
Saidu: His name is Jermaine Guinyard, but everybody just calls him Coach G. And he always gets the same question: How did you end up here?
Jermaine Guinyard: Like I tell my family, man, there is no way in the world a man like myself from San Diego, California, is gonna say, "I'm gonna go to Harvard, Nebraska, and start my family." You know what I mean? So I think Harvard found me. I didn't really, like, go looking for it. But, you know, there's—I guess that's why we gonna get into our story.
Saidu: From Gimlet, I’m Saidu Tejan-Thomas, Jr. This is Resistance. In this episode, the only Black man in Harvard, Nebraska, puts on the first Black Lives Matter protest the town has ever seen.
Saidu: Jermaine landed in Nebraska in the early 2000s. And at first he was in Hastings, Nebraska, on a football scholarship. But then he graduated and moved to Harvard, which is just few miles away. It was cold, it was small, and it was white as hell. It was nothing like where Jermaine had grown up, San Diego, California. But he stuck it out in Harvard. He was in his early 20s and he’s very quick to tell me that at that stage of his life he was very much a rah-rah hot-headed football player type of guy. But then he met his wife. Her name was Rosa.
Saidu: In our text messages, he spells out her name in all caps like he’s framing it: ROSA. He loved how calm she could be under pressure. Like when white people in town tried him, when he was ready to fight, Rosa kept it real with him. She told him, "Jermaine, you know don’t have enough fists to fight the whole town."
Saidu: And Rosa liked how honest and caring Jermaine was, almost to a fault. He was the kind of guy who would put 67 cents worth of gas in his truck just so he could have some change left over so he could share a meal with you.
Saidu: One day they were talking about their plans for the future. Jermaine asked, "Do you wanna settle down at some point?" She said yes. "Do you wanna settle down with me?" She said yes. So they settled down together in Harvard.
Jermaine Guinyard: San Diego to Nebraska. It was a huge shock in itself, coming from a metro of a million people to Harvard, where you only have a thousand people. Even today, I still have to, like, grip it and take it in and really, like, understand what's going on. But I had to adapt, man. I really had to adapt. I think with me, the biggest thing being a very confident Black man, I think a lot of people didn't really know how to respond to me. I think at times, Nebraska is kind of used to a particular type of way they want people of color to be.
Saidu: What did you think they expected? Like what—what did they expect from people of color? What did they expect from you?
Jermaine Guinyard: Oh, man. I really think they—they—honestly Saidu, I have to be honest with you, I think a lot of people in Nebraska still see Blacks as slaves. And I don't mean to say that in a rude or disrespectful way, but they see us as a—as a commodity, as something that—definitely not as equal, but as something as, like—I don't want to say animal or cattle, but I just think they don't look at us as equal. I really think they expected me just to be a humble, "Do as you say" Black man. And I think that perception about what they feel a Black man is kind of—I didn't fit that mold, man. And so I just didn't fit it—dreadlocks, you know what I'm saying? Like, San Diego, I just didn't fit in. And so it was growing on both ends, man. It was growing on both ends.
Saidu: At that point in your life, can you remember any moments, like, in those early days where, you know, communication broke down with somebody, or there was a situation where the way you were ran up against the way they expected you to be?
Jermaine Guinyard: Oh, man. I remember coming to Harvard, and walking my dog. It was "N*****, get off my grass."
Saidu: Oh, yeah?
Jermaine Guinyard: Oh, man. You have no idea, man. This is when I'm walking with my daughter, too. "N***** get off my grass." I've had—oh man. I've had—listen to this. I had those ladies that go in the courthouse, do your taxes and stuff like that if you’re paying for your car and stuff like that. But she told me straight up: "Hey listen, man. We don't want a lot of your kind out here. So if you can, try to keep this a secret out here, because we don't need too many people out here like yourself moving out here and kind of messing up." Like, oh, man. I've got some kind of subtle and straight, subtle racism, smile in your face racism. It was big when I first got out here, man.
Saidu: Wow. So—and you stayed.
Jermaine Guinyard: And I stayed. And that’s—and you see, I think today—I think today why Jermaine is respected so much is because I weathered the storm, man.
Saidu: Yeah. I'm also thinking about, like, I feel like, you know, you coming of age in this place where people are both blatantly and subtly racist to you, and then you start having a family there, you start building a family. Like, I'm wondering, like, you start having kids. Like, I don't know. I would think maybe the first thing you would think about is, "All right, how am I gonna get my kids the fuck out of here," you know?
Jermaine Guinyard: Yeah.
Saidu: Like, "Why don't we just leave?"
Jermaine Guinyard: You know, in all honesty, that was—that was kind of my angle. But with my wife being here and her mom and her sister, it kind of got me to stay here. Kept stickum. You know, Saidu, one thing that really helps me out being here was the fact that I coached. I coached a lot of these white kids around here. So a lot of people got to see me out of context as far as, like, not just seeing a Black man with dreads, they got to see kind of a little bit of my innocence. They got to see me without my defenses, with their children coaching them. And once that kind of took place, everything started to change a little bit for me.
Jermaine Guinyard: The grandparents would call me, "N*****. Get off my grass, n*****." But their grandbabies, I'm coaching them. So they got to see me in a light, like, "I just told this n***** to get off my grass, and my grandbaby love this dude, man. He, like, talk about Mr. G all day." So it was one of those situations that happened, Saidu. It was really with love and patience. I'm probably still a n***** to them, I don't know what I—but I was able to slip through a seed of love to just get them to go, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let me look at this from a different lens." And I think that's really what happened, man.
Saidu: Wow. Okay. Did you ever talk to your children about all this stuff?
Jermaine Guinyard: Every day. They know about it. Oh, man. I don’t need to talk about it. They have it directly in their face. My daughter was called a n***** bitch. It was written on the bathroom wall. My children have experienced it. I've had one of the kids on my kid’s baseball team spit in his face and call him a n*****. It's come to them at a young age, man. So that's one thing about small towns. Like in San Diego, I didn't even know what racism really was until I got to Nebraska. And so, like, you don't have to really worry about that in small towns, especially at whatever age, it’s gonna come to you, man.
Saidu: Like, how do you—how do you remain Black in that place? In Harvard, Nebraska? Like, how do you, like, maintain your Blackness? Because I feel like—I feel like so much of my Blackness is, like, about participating in shit with other Black people. You know what I'm saying? Like, the way I talk to other Black people or the way we dap each other up, or all that kind—all these little idiosyncrasies that make up what it means to be Black. And, like, if I'm by myself and I'm just surrounded by a bunch of white people, I'll probably lose that. Like, how do you remain—how do you maintain your Blackness?
Jermaine Guinyard: Man, Saidu, I'ma tell you. Because I'm in all-white Leave it to Beaver, I got to almost, like—it almost perpetuates my Blackness, man. I almost got to be a symbol, man, for, like, all Black men and Black people. So something I say is when I came from San Diego, I didn't know what racism was until I got to Nebraska. And so once that came out and I felt it and I taste it and it hit me, it made me, Saidu, go, "Oh, y'all gonna really—oh, okay. Y'all gonna see a Black man for real. I’m gonna show you." Now don't get me wrong. Obviously, there's no Black people where I could be like—for example, the way we talk. "What up?" You know what I'm trying to say. "What up, what up?" How we talk and how we do our thing. But so I can't really do that with my—with people obviously, being the only Black dude here. But as far as letting people see. Like, one of the reasons why I kept my dreadlocks. Everything I could do to wear my Rastafarian shirts, not in a disrespectful way, but just to show my Blackness, I'm doing it man. And like I said man, people really know where I stand when it comes to, you're not going—you're not gonna bring that foolishness or disrespectful stuff my way like that. So oh, man. I'll tell you, Saidu, just being around white folks every day makes me realize how much I have to really keep that symbol established, man. It really is, man.
Saidu: So you don't go in the other direction. You don't, like, run away from it. You, like, embrace it even more because you're the only one.
Jermaine Guinyard: Man, I ran to it even more. And I think that's why people could put a finger on me in Harvard, because they like, "Oh that dude, he a Black dude, he a Black man." But I'm able to show them Blackness in a love and beautiful way, instead of the way that they always perceive that we gotta be going jail or we gotta be thuggin' or selling dope. I'm able to show them, like, he's very Black. He loves being Black. He's a Black man. He’s gonna speak up. And he loves his family. He loves his Black family, his Black babies. And all y'all gonna be put on notice about that. And with that, I think—believe it or not, ironically, I get a lot more respect, man, that way. So, you know, I'ma be honest with you, Saidu, white people they don't want watered-down soul food. When they go eat ribs, they want to eat. You feel me? So I try not to give them a watered-down version of a perception of a Black man. I’m gonna give 'em straight soul food, man.
Saidu: Oh, man. That's fucking hilarious. Oh man, that's funny. It makes me think about, there's this, like, clip from this movie that's like, this dude he's dressed in, like—he has, like, a colorful African print shirt on, he has a little hat. And it's almost like a '90s throwback joint. And it's like a little music video. And he's like, he's basically like, "I'm Black y'all, and I'm Black y'all. And I'm Blacker than Black and I'm Black, y'all."
Jermaine Guinyard: That's CB4. That's CB4. The movie with Chris Rock.
Saidu: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Jermaine Guinyard: Yeah. No, for real. For real. For real. For real. That was a good movie.
Saidu: When we come back, Jermaine finally tells the town how he feels. But in a place like Harvard, will anyone listen?
Saidu: What’s good y’all? Welcome back.
Saidu: Jermaine Guinyard has been in Harvard, Nebraska, for 14 years now. And he’s put down some roots. One kid turned into two turned into six. And houses are cheap in Harvard. Jermaine was able to become the first person in his family to own property. One house turned into two turned into six. He even bought the old boarded-up church where all the white folks in town were baptized when they were kids. He told me they didn’t like that very much.
Saidu: At first it was hard for me to understand why he didn’t just leave Harvard. But talking to him, I realized that for all the shit he’s gone through in Harvard, it’s where he fell in love, it’s where he became a father and it’s where he became a man.
Saidu: Jermaine's refusal to leave was his way of resisting. Staying in Harvard was the biggest political statement he could have made. But a few months ago, when Jermaine heard about the police killing of George Floyd, he knew just being a symbol wouldn’t be enough anymore, he had to say something.
Saidu: Can you tell me how you heard about George Floyd’s death?
Jermaine Guinyard: Oh man, I heard about it, man. It was—man, I was getting so numb to us getting killed by the police, man. It was just—seems like it was, like, once every other month, man. And once I seen that George Floyd, man, and I really only watched it once. That's all it took for me, and oh man. You didn't have to really hear about it. It was everywhere on the news, man.
Saidu: Yeah. Yeah, I'll be honest, I still haven't watched that video, but I know what’s there. You know what I'm saying? And just knowing what’s there when I heard about it, it was like a very heavy—like, the way I was feeling was just, like, heaviness. Like, I couldn't—it feel like I just couldn't move. Like, I sat on my couch for, like, days just doing nothing.
Jermaine Guinyard: Saidu, in all honestly, I was so like you. I was so sick in my stomach and heavy that I had to—I had to wake up and get that off my chest. And that's what the protest was. Because being a Black man, you don't—you can't really talk to somebody that's not Black that understands. Like, I can't talk to my wife to be, like—although she's Mexican and a woman of color, she has no idea what it means to be a Black man. And not having a Saidu here where I can really jib it up with him, like, dude, you know? So my way of just being able to express that without having people here to understand what a Black man is, is to be able to have that protest and speak out and let it be known, you know? So it's therapy for me.
Saidu: Tell me about the moment you decided to organize the protests.
Jermaine Guinyard: Oh, yes. The night, that night. You know, I don't know necessarily, I think I was on a Tuesday, if I'm not mistaken. But the night before, I was just thinking what needs to be done, man. I was figuring out. I was thinking, pacing back and forth. And my wife said, "You should do a protest." And I didn't even really take heed to what she was saying, man. I didn’t even hear it. Like, really wasn't hearing her. And then I went to bed, and woke up the next morning and I said, "I should do a protest." And she's like, "I kind of told you that last night." And so it went down—it went down just like that, man.
Saidu: That night, when your wife was talking to you, up until that point had you seen that there were protests happening all over the world?
Jermaine Guinyard: Wasn't even on that, man. I wasn't even paying attention, man. I didn't even know how to even form a protest. I didn't know how to organize one. I didn't even know what that necessarily meant. The only protests I ever really knew about was Martin Luther King, watching him and doing the marches that they did. I've never experienced, never talked, never even knew. As far as in Harvard, even Nebraska in general, I think outside of Omaha, very foreign, man. You don't do things like that. And so I just felt like this needed to be addressed in our town, man. And I didn't know what to expect, Saidu. I just—I was hurt, man. And it was a way for me to just—therapy, man. I was hurt.
Jermaine Guinyard: I woke up at nine o'clock. I texted some individuals. I texted four individuals, former students, my former athletes, and they went out there and put the grassroots together, man.
Saidu: Of those four people that you reached out to, who did you call first?
Jermaine Guinyard: David Reazola. He is a 18 year old, just graduated senior. As much as I want to say—I'm old enough to be his father, but I try not to take that away from his dad, so I almost look at him like a big brother, man. And I remember texting him and I said, "David, I want to put a protest together. I want to get behind George Floyd’s death. I don't know—I don't know what to do." I said, "You are going to be—you got to call and text people because you're a platform on social media." That's kind of what we used, his platform. And it just took off, man.
Saidu: How quickly did it come together?
Jermaine Guinyard: Well, listen. I called him at 11:00, and by 7:00 p.m. I would say eight hours, man. It's funny, though, because it started at 7:00. We got there about 6:40, and it was only me and David on the steps. And he was like, "Hey, coach, if it's just me and you, we got to roll with it." I said, "David, if it's just me or you, we've got to roll with it." So about 6:40 roll, 6:45 about three people trickle in. 6:50 about five more. "Let's roll with it, David." And then about by 6:58, just everybody start rolling in. So it was kind of neat, man, the way it all happened. And then it's funny is, it would have been more, but you had some people in the back with they phones taking pictures just to be like, what's gonna happen or something happen? Or, you know, didn't really want to be involved, but just wanted to—you know how that is. See how everything is going just for the "just in case."
Saidu: Right, right.
Jermaine Guinyard: Harvard’s not ever had a protest ever. You know, we coming from a town where the KKK was kind of flourished, man. You know, we have a history of KKK in our town. So I think with that history, you know, you're still living with them perceptions and biases. And so I think a lot of people were just—they’re not used to having a protest like that. They never had a Black dude speak up and speak out like this before. And so it was all new to them as well, man. It was all new to them. So I don't think they—I don't think they knew what to expect either, to be honest with you.
Saidu: So you spoke, right?
Jermaine Guinyard: Yes, sir.
Saidu: Yeah. What did—what did you say?
Jermaine Guinyard: The first thing I said is there's to be no violence here, man. And so if you came with this mindset of thinking you going—plus there ain't nothing here to riot. What you gonna do? What you gonna take? There ain't nothing here but a bag of chips, some juice from the store.
Jermaine Guinyard: So as far as you rioting, you just—why would you tear your own stuff up for nothing? Ain't nothing here to take. But that's one of the first things I said. And then I went into why we're here today.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jermaine Guinyard: We may be small town Nebraska. We may be a small town and you go, "There's no police brutality here." And you're right. We don't have to deal with that. What do we do in our part to bring justice and stuff to America? Because we're all American.]
Jermaine Guinyard: Went on to the love I have for the town. But then I was able for me to address the subtle injustices and the blatant racism that goes on.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Jermaine Guinyard: So when I stand here today, I'll tell you that I love you because I mean that with my soul. And I'll fight for all of y'all. All of y'all know that. If you're gay, if you are female, if you Latino, or if you Black, this is injustice for you. If you couldn't speak out because you couldn't be beautiful, this is for you. Don't let nobody take that from y'all. Don't let anybody take that from y'all. So don't look at it like, "Oh, poor whatever." Stand strong and be strong for Harvard, because this is our community.]
Saidu: So all these people show up. Was there anybody who showed up that was surprising to you, that you were like, oh, I did not expect to see you here?
Jermaine Guinyard: All right, Saidu, I don't know how you're gonna do this or how you're gonna edit this, but how can I say this? I was working at Harvard Public Schools. And once again there was a story behind my daughter being called a n***** bitch on the wall. And so to make a long story very short, I confronted my superintendent, things didn't really get done. Confronted him again as a father, things still really didn't get done. The administration here just really kind of dropped the ball. It really hurt. So with that being said, those administrators showed up to the rally. I was like, "Wow, man. That’s kind of ironic."
Saidu: Oh, shit!
Jermaine Guinyard: Yeah. So I thought that was very ironic for them to show up to a equality Black Lives Matter event, when you didn't take care of my daughter who's Black, when she was in your school being called a n***** bitch or whatever it was.
Saidu: Did you talk to them?
Jermaine Guinyard: Matter of fact, one of the—now here we go, how ironic. One of the rules David gave when we were to get up from laying down for nine minutes like George Floyd was, he said to grab a partner, make sure your partner is laying down. I want you to go help your partner up. You know, like, help a friend up. Nobody helped the administrators up. They were like, "Nah, we don't want to go help them." Well, guess who—well, guess who had to go help them to show them that man, listen, Jermaine did, Coach G. So yeah, those administrators who nobody went to go help up, man, I went to go actually help them up. So that was a little weird.
Saidu: Yeah, that's real. Yeah, man. It feels like you have to do that all the time in one way or another. Feels like you're always helping people up who aren't helping you.
Jermaine Guinyard: Yeah Saidu, that's—yeah. And that's where being around Black people such as yourself and just my people kind of come in. It's hard not being able to talk to people that I come from. I've adapted, man. I've learned and just matured. Speak and communicate in ways that I'm able to reach people and touch they souls, man, and plant seeds. But it is tough, man, at times, because I always have to maintain a symbol of Blackness. Every day I walk out of the house, especially in this town of a thousand people, predominately white, and sometimes, man, you just want to be—you just want to just say, "What up, Saidu? You good, man? What's good, dog? Let's go ball! Let's go shoot some hoops." You just wanna—you wanna be able to kind of just—and unfortunately for me, I have to be this 95 to 98 percent of the time, all the time. And any time I let my defenses down, it has to be in my house within my family. So that could be a bit tollsome at times.
Saidu: Do you think people listened?
Jermaine Guinyard: Saidu, they tryin'. They tryin'. Some are tryin.'
Saidu: They tryin'. [laughs] Like, that's like the best you could offer is like they tryin.'
Jermaine Guinyard: They tryin,' man. Listen, I'll tell you this, man. There's a little bit more positivity my way. Like, I walk my dog. In a very weird way some people who never spoke to me or said hi, or what’s up, are now being able to, like, kind of put down their borders. And the Harvard Community Club is inviting me to be a member, which I never was ever invited in my own community to be a member of their club. So I got that invitation. The firehouse asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer firefighter. You know, things that most men or people in the community would probably get when they move in or be asked, I was finally asked these things. You know, it took me—it took me to speak up and have these protests for people to be able to look at me and go, "Oh, man. Let's try to get him involved with the community now." And so instead of being on the outside looking in, they're kind of welcoming me on the inside now. And so, did it help? As much as I—you know, yeah, Saidu, even if it’s like a very inch step, they’re not gonna take a full step, you know that.
Saidu: Yeah, yeah.
Jermaine Guinyard: But if they can take a little inch drag and if that's what I had to do all that for, for them to be able to just take a half a milli-inch step, as much as I don't want to say I can't stand that, was it positive or progress? Yes, Saidu, it helped a little. It did.
Saidu: Yo, man. Thank you so much. This conversation was so good, bro. I—yeah, I feel like you—like, a part of me is, like, worried for you being the only Black man there and worried for your family. But, like, also this whole conversation gave me—like, I feel like you—like, you got it, essentially. Like, you—you got it. You holding it down.
Jermaine Guinyard: As long as—and I tell people in Nebraska, as long as you know where I'm at and you know I'm in Harvard, I'm the only Black dude here, I'm kind of good. As long as—if something happened to me, you're gonna be like, "Hold up, hold up. Where's Jermaine? We know where Jermaine at. Uh-uh. No, no, no. He shouldn't be missing like that."
Saidu: Right, right. If you went missing, everyone would know.
Jermaine Guinyard: Everybody go, "No. Hold up. Where's Jermaine? It ain't—it ain't a hundred of them, there is one. Something ain't right. Where he at?"
Saidu: Thanks for listening. Resistance is produced by Bethel Habte, Wallace Mack, Aaron Randle and Kimmie Regler. Our production assistant is Sandra Riano. Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh.
Saidu: We’re edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen and Brendan Klinkenberg. Mixing and scoring by Bobby Lord and Catherine Anderson. Theme by Bobby Lord. Original score by Drea The Vibe Dealer. Fact checking is by Michelle Harris. And our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. Good looks, homie. Credits music is "Cut Me" by Moses Sumney.
Saidu: Oh and again: Did you know that you can vote before Nov 3rd in most states? If you want to find out how, go to playyourpart.ballotready.org. Please do that.
Saidu: Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production.