'We are all one race': Rochester's Norris optimistic that nation has hit a turning point
David Norris, who grew up in Los Angeles, has lived the last six years in Rochester. The 32-year-old African-American is expressing optimism that positive changes may be coming when it comes to racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
David Norris is a 32-year-old African-American man who grew up in Los Angeles but has lived in Rochester for the last six years. He’s widely known in the Rochester-area basketball community for his skill work with male and female college, high school and grade-school players. Norris works as a medical administrative assistant at Mayo Clinic, is CEO of Live Your Freedom LLC, is a basketball skills trainer for Practice Perfect Training and is co-director of AAU basketball organization Minnesota Lace Up.
Norris reacts here to the recent wave of protests nationally and globally in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis at the hands of police.
Why was this charged police killing different than the rest, that it set off an entire nation?
DAVID NORRIS: Protests happen almost every time (that a police officer kills an African-American person), all the way back to 1992 with Rodney King. But this was the culmination of so many killings that have happened in our lifetime, and it was documented on video. Plus, we had Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor die in the span of a month or weeks, just before this. It was the culmination of all of that. I think as a nation and even as a world, people just decided to rise up. I think it is beautiful to see this many people behind a revolution like this. People have had enough. You can only turn your cheek so many times. At some point, you have to fight back.
What were your experiences as a black man growing up in Los Angeles? What separated what you went through from the white experience?
NORRIS: I think, generally speaking, as a black person you start off differently in life. You start behind the curve. Things as simple as you tend to live in an apartment instead of a house, you often have one parent instead of two. Those are small things, but they’re things you have to deal with. It’s hard for me to judge, because I am not white. But I’ve had conversations with friends who are not black. Around law enforcement and businesses as a whole, you’re always kind of watching what you do, so it doesn’t have a negative connotation to it. You have to work twice as hard to get to a place as a black person.
What was your experience with law enforcement growing up in Los Angeles?
NORRIS: I got pulled over (by the police) a lot. I can’t tell you how many times I got pulled over; it was too many to name. I once got pulled over twice in the same week. In one of those they said that my back license plate light was out, and it was the middle of the day. I checked it later, and it wasn’t out. It was hard to deal with always knowing that literally nothing I was doing was wrong. I once got handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police car just leaving a club and walking to my car. I had one cop pull a gun on me and say he was going to shoot me. It is racial profiling. A lot of times they say that they’re looking for someone who matches your profile. That happens way too many times. (Norris did note that he hasn't had any incidents with Rochester police.)
What is something that you’d like all people to understand about being black in the United States?
NORRIS: It’s that this struggle is everywhere and no (African-American person) is exempt. The best thing you can do is listen. You’re never going to completely understand, because you have to experience it.
Are you optimistic that we’re in the midst of a turning point in racial justice?
NORRIS: I’m pretty optimistic. This situation (with nation-wide and even global protests) is something I’ve never seen before. It’s something new. I think things can turn the corner.
How are these protests different from others you’ve witnessed?
NORRIS: The fact that it is global makes it different. Normally, they stay within a city or a few towns. I went to the protest in Rochester on Saturday and then the one in the Cities on Monday. It was nothing but love there. It was a peaceful thing, with everyone with the same agenda, just loving each other, the way the world is supposed to be. A high percentage of the protesters were high-school aged. For them to be that young and realizing that we need a change, it makes me believe that we have an opportunity to start going down the right road.
What has to happen for real change to occur in this country and for African-Americans to feel like they’re getting a real shot at living their dreams?
NORRIS: The system has to change. America was built off of revolutions. We don’t have to tear down the foundation, but we have to change the structure. But mostly, the way people treat each other is what has to change.
What is your philosophy in life and your way of building cohesion?
NORRIS: I have always been the type of person who can talk to everyone. It’s pretty easy for me having (done so much) with basketball. It’s all about relationships. I’m going to teach kids some basketball, but I can also talk to them about shoes, and homework, and all kinds of things.
What do you see as your role in Rochester, where you’ve been a coach, teacher and mentor to so many kids, both non-white and white?
NORRIS: I’ve built myself up so people know me here in Rochester. I’ve wanted to be looked at in a positive light, so black kids see me and realize that they can own a business and can play basketball. Whatever I do here, I want it to be positive for the community.
How important or not is the United States’ President in all of this? Does it make much difference who it is and what his tenor is like?
NORRIS: For (President Donald) Trump not to acknowledge right now that there is a problem, that is a problem. To never address it, that makes things worse. It’s not what you want from a leader.
What can all of us do to make a difference in race relations and in making sure all races get an equal chance in this country?
NORRIS: The biggest thing to me is to recognize that we are all one race -- the human race. We have differences, which is fine. But we need to teach kids how to all love each other. If we don’t do that, we’re going to have the same problems that we’ve been having the last 60 years. This next generation has to be the one.