HiFi Voices Amplified: Kenny Graham

This is the third in our HiFi Voices Amplified series, where we pass the Mic to members of our community and let them share their own experiences. Change begins with expression and listening. The previous posts in this series were hosted on Instagram, and you can find them via this hashtag link to #HiFiVoicesAmplified. Today, on Juneteenth, we decided to host Kenny Graham’s post here on our website because of its length — it’s way too long for Instagram, and because of its quality — this is too important a message to chop up for that platform. We’re proud to introduce our friend, Kenny Graham: beloved time trial series promoter; team president and owner of Revenge Cycling Racing & Promotions; race official; and product integrity manager at Yakima Products. Here’s Kenny, in his own words:

When Josh asked me to contribute to the #HiFiVoicesAmplified series, I was honored and grateful. Born in Portland, I attended Irvington Elementary, Fernwood Middle, and Grant High School. I grew up in an amazing neighborhood on 13th & Siskiyou in the Irvington Historical District, and the schools I attended were AMAZING (3rd grade was the best!) I grew up in what I considered a melting pot of different cultures, races, and genders – but we all got along really well, and I would never trade that time of my life for anything. It truly became the foundation of who I am today. But nothing stays pure forever…

It was March 1985 – my junior year at Grant. A friend asked me if I wanted to play basketball at his house over the weekend in Alameda, and I accepted. I would almost never pass up an opportunity to play sports. He told me if I wanted to bring friends we could play teams, hang out, and just do what teenagers do.

On Saturday afternoon we arrived at about 1pm. We must have played for 6 hours straight! During that time, I noticed this older lady walking back and forth in front of the house and looking at us play. I thought nothing of it and kept playing.

Around 7:30pm, after grabbing something to eat with my friends’ parents and talking with them in the kitchen, we thanked them for having us over and decided to leave. While loading up in my car, I noticed what looked like an extremely large amount of Portland Police vehicles in front of and behind us. I remember saying – “Something is about to go down…”

As we decided to head towards NE Fremont and make our way home, EVERYTHING changed in a split second. Thirty-two heavily armed Portland Police officers surrounded my car with loaded and trained weapons, and they started yelling every command possible. There were five of us in the car and I remember looking around at everyone and saying: “Don’t even breathe wrong.”

Their weapons were pointed at each of our heads, and there were blinding lights. I still remember the officer who had his police-issued shotgun pointed at my head. It was like a bad movie, and I wasn’t sure that any of us would make it home that night.

We all were yanked out of the car violently, and slammed to the ground with multiple guns pointed to our heads. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally questioned about my car. The officer who questioned me, told me, “You know when you steal cars, they send pieces of black shit like you to prison if you don’t get killed at the scene.”

Problem was, my car wasn’t stolen. It was registered in Oregon, my license was valid, and my insurance was current. That officer and his partners determined I was the ring leader, and I was called every racial name on the planet – hell, I hadn’t heard of some of the things that they called me. I knew I was innocent, but reality set in – I WAS IN DEEP TROUBLE.

After being slammed against the police car and handcuffed, they put me into the police cruiser and took me downtown to be processed. Everyone I encountered treated me horribly and was extremely aggressive, just waiting for the moment for me to say something out of line.

At 16 years old, jail is the last place you want to be, and I became extremely worried about how the night was going to go. After being thrown into a holding cell onto my side, they finally came to question me. Again, I am 16 years old and they DID NOT CARE! I told them the same thing I said at the scene in Alameda: my car is not stolen and you’re somehow making a mistake.

Remember the old lady that watched us while we were playing basketball? She was 86 years old with poor eye sight. It seems that when she called the police to report “suspicious” people in her neighborhood, she gave the Portland Police a license plate that was one digit off, and that vehicle was stolen. Trouble was, the car that was stolen looked nothing like mine (mine was a yellow Datsun 510 – stolen one was a red Ford Mustang). To make matters worse, NO ONE on scene bother to check any of that vital information.

Eventually I was granted a phone call and I called my mother. My mother then called her friend from high school who was a sitting Circuit Court Judge, and they both came down to get me out. I have NEVER seen a woman possess so much power in my life! Everyone in the police station was basically frozen as this woman in her house coat held each one of them to task.

Fast forward to April of the same year. Lloyd Tony Stevenson was 31 years old. At the 7-11 on NE Weidler and NE MLK, he was in the store while it was being robbed. A former Marine and security guard, the father of five stepped in to help two employees stop the thief. When the Portland Police arrived, Officer Gary L. Barbour put Tony in a choke hold and rendered him unconscious. The officer NEVER performed CPR on Tony after being told multiple times he was not the suspect. Remember, he was just trying to help out where it was needed. 45 long minutes later, Tony was dead. I knew Tony, because we went to church with him and his family in North Portland.

What made matters even worse, on the day of Tony’s funeral, two other police officers created and sold shirts that said “Don’t Choke Em, Smoke Em!” Those officers were fired by the Mayor, but somehow got their jobs back. The officer that killed Tony, was NEVER indicted. This was in 1985, and not much has changed! I joined the military that next year. I have always thought about how that could have been me.

Fast forward to today. I have been asked by multiple people – what can they do to help during these troubled times?

Here’s my answer which starts with a question from Dr. Jane Elliot. In a full room during a seminar she asks, “I ask every white person in this room – who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats black citizens? If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in our society – please stand.” She asks the question again, “You didn’t understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are, please stand.” No one in the room stands. She goes on to say, “Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what’s happening. You know you don’t want it for you. But what I want to know is why are you are so willing to accept it or allow it to happen to others”.

So when you say All Lives Matter – okay. So that’s Blacks, Whites, Asian, Muslims, LBGTQ, Hispanic, Jewish, Native American, ALL LIVES – the whole spectrum. But, when you have one particular sub-set of lives that are consistently being murdered, beaten, and lynched (currently) in the streets, and discriminated against: then if becomes MOST lives matter. If you continue to just say ALL LIVES MATTER, all does not equal most! So what we need to do, is to HELP those lives that need HELP so that, truly, ALL LIVES DO MATTER. You know – FOR LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL? Or does it say “most”?

As I look at all the protests going on around the world, I pray that change is happening for our children and grandchildren. As protesting is important, we must do more to ensure that what has and still is happening stops here and now. LIFT EVERY VOICE & STAND WITH YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS TO DEMAND CHANGE! Hold those in political offices and positions of power accountable.

For the community that I LOVE and enjoy working in, the Outdoor Industry: I appreciate what you are currently doing and your speaking out about racism. My charge to you all is that you can’t just make a social media post when world events dictate that you need to speak up to be relevant, or during the month of February (Black History Month). Be the company that makes EVERYONE feel included; be the company that is always working behind the scenes to improve relations and shorten the gaps between race and gender; and go out into the community and become involved all of the time, even when no one is looking. Market to everyone like the old Benetton ads, and be genuine about your involvement and commitment. SHOW US – BETTER THAN YOU CAN TELL US! NOW IS YOUR TIME!

Thank you to Josh Liberles and HiFi for allowing me to step to the Mic and share my experiences from the heart! LOVE you man with all my heart, and I will ALWAYS be grateful to you for this opportunity.

My parting quote is by Malcolm X: “And I, for one, will join in with anyone – I don’t care what color you are – as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth”.

RACISIM is very real, and just because you haven’t experienced it, know that it truly exists.

This is dedicated to my grandparents Little John & Lunnett Kelly, and my AMAZING mother Jewel Fae Dias, and to all of the families that have lost loved ones due to systemic racism and police brutality.