Listening will be the catalyst for racial justice, say Alex and Julie BoyéJun 29, 2020 11h46 ● By Heather Lawrence
Julie and Alex Boyé are watching the racial justice movement unfold with cautious hope that it means a better world for their kids. (Kelli Jeppson Photography)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Alex and Julie Boyé are used to being in the spotlight. Between Alex’s performances and music videos, and Julie’s social media posts and book on “Mominating,” they’re a well-known couple in Utah. But on June 4, they were in the spotlight for a different reason: Julie’s op-ed in the Deseret News about race.
“I wrote it for Alex. I saw these other white women writing about their black husbands online, and I wondered if [Alex] didn’t feel supported. I didn’t say anything to him when he watched the news [of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter protests]. But one night he just held me and said, ‘I’m hurting,’” Julie said.
Julie’s piece cited a time when she and Alex were (rightfully) pulled over in Sandy for speeding while she was driving. She was fascinated and even irritated when the energy in the car changed rapidly, and Alex, who is outgoing and engaging, became totally still, almost disappearing during Julie’s exchange with the officer.
That was the moment when something clicked for her—she realized that for Black people, the fear when they interact with officers is real. “The policeman didn’t do anything to show prejudice, but it’s a learned behavior. That’s what makes it harder. It’s a reflex,” Alex said.
Julie received positive and negative feedback on the piece, some of which she chalks up to the way it was edited for length. “The point isn’t that Alex didn’t try to get me out of a ticket that I deserved. The point is what I learned that day about my husband’s world,” Julie said.
A copy of the article in its entirety is on the family’s website www.theboyefamilyjewels.com.
As the parents of seven, and soon to be eight, children, the Boyés have come up against challenges they never imagined. “Our neighbor screamed at us when our kids’ ball went in his yard. He came out with a rifle and yelled, ‘I don’t know how they do things in Nigeria, but this is America,’” Julie said.
Alex doesn’t know how they do things in Nigeria, either; though his ancestry is Nigerian, he grew up in London.
The police came to settle the incident, but again, Alex felt he had to hold back, and quietly slipped into the house. “I’ve been warned by friends and family not to approach police officers. I don’t know which ones will have a problem or feel threatened by me. There are just too many stories,” Alex said.
As he watched the Black Lives Matter protests unfold, Alex wondered how long the energy would last. “We’ve seen these protests before,” he said. “They have their moment, and then we’re on to the next thing. But this protest, if you think about it, has been going on for 400 years.”
The Boyés see signs that change might come, and healing can progress. “What people saw with the George Floyd case was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Now it’s everywhere. When you turn on Netflix and you see a big banner, ‘Black Lives Matter,” that’s something. People are paying attention to racial injustice.
“People say, ‘Why get so upset over this one case?’ What they don’t see is that for the Black community, for our mental health, it’s a trigger. We all have this PTSD, we’ve seen this too many times, and these events are triggers. You see that on TV, and what do you think every Black man is feeling? ‘That could be me.’ All the feelings come up,” Alex said.
The Boyés said that telling their story is one way they find peace through the anger and frustration. "The feelings have always been there, but we didn’t tell our stories, so people didn’t realize. Like with the MeToo movement, change doesn’t happen until people start telling their stories,” Alex said.
For Julie, sharing her stories can come with a dose of ‘white guilt.’ “I said to Alex, ‘I don’t know what to say. Am I offending people? Should I say Black or African American? Am I going to be criticized for not speaking loudly enough, or soon enough?’ Alex told me that best thing we can do is share our story, not our opinion. And then listen,” Julie said.
“When we listen to people, and then we say, ‘I understand what you say, but…’ then it’s like you weren’t listening. Listen without the ‘but.’ That’s a powerful thing. It’s a Balm of Gilead. I can’t help but think this COVID-19 pandemic that made us all wear masks is symbolic. The mask covers your mouth, but not your ears. Stop talking, and start listening,” Alex said.
The Boyés are focused on what’s best for their family and their own mental health. For Alex, that’s engaging with people through music. In June, he was in St. George for a funeral and ended up performing impromptu concerts for essential workers.
“At the end of the day, all the heartache and anger isn’t working, it’s getting worse and more dangerous. So this is what I do. It doesn’t bother me if people don’t like the way I work. And it’s done through my anger and madness and bitterness. It’s not that I don’t have those feelings, it’s just that that’s not what I want to put out there,” Alex said.
In St. George, Alex sang for healthcare workers in the NICU at Dixie Regional Medical Center, the St. George Police Department and the St. George Fire Department. Right now, the last thing one might expect to see is a black man performing for a group of white police officers, trying to give something to them. But for Alex it was right.
Alex talked about his experiences in between songs. For SGPD officer Tiffany Atkin, that was awesome. “He spent a lot of time with us. It was nice that he included us and set an example by reaching out. I thought it was brave of him, and it did all our hearts good,” she said.
“Officers approached me and said, ‘You’ll never know how much we needed this; this has been the hardest week.’ The thing with humans is that we want to paint everyone with the same brush —we want to [stereotype them as] black, white, police, Muslim, but it’s not true. Whoever’s hurting, I want to be their ally. That’s what takes the anger out of me,” Alex said.
These days, the Boyés follow the news and hope that their kids will grow up in a safer world. One where they won’t have to tell their daughters they need to work harder than their white peers to get noticed, or their sons they might be the one who gets singled out for trouble if they’re goofing off with a group of white friends.
“I’m praying that this can change for my kids. I don’t know how far off we are. There’s not one simple answer. This is a 400-year-old protest. We’ve been trying for years to get the message through. The stage we’re at right now, the only cure is to listen,” Alex said.