Local News

Jovan Nesbit Reflects on BLM, Local Culture, and Capacity for Change

by Sonali Muthukrishnan and Alia Arafeh

News Editor and Culture Editor

Jovan Nesbit is a Black entrepreneur from Stockton, California. He has a large social media presence on his Instagram account (@see_forward),  where he shares his life experiences as a Black man in California. He attended the Los Gatos Black Lives Matter protest, organized by LGHS students, on Wed., June 3. Recently, Nesbit discussed his perspectives with El Gato News, his reasons for supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, the discrimination he has faced, and how the Los Gatos community can effectively make change with our BLM activism.


Alia Arafeh: What is your name and age, and where did you grow up? 

Jovan Nesbit: My name is Jovan Nesbit. My age is 38. I was born in ‘81, so I’ve been around for a while. I’m from Stockton, California, but I currently reside in Los Altos. I’ve moved around a lot, so I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I identify with many different people and cultures. 

AA: Can you give us some background information about yourself, like what college you went to and what you do for a living?

JN: It’s kind of funny because I didn’t go to college until I was 31, and I didn’t even finish. I went to college out on the East Coast. I moved out there because I wanted to start my life over. At that time in my life, the vicious cycle of poverty that prominently exists in the Black community was really affecting my life. As a young Black man, it felt like there was no hope for my future, so when a friend asked me if I wanted to move, I was like, “Of course, man.” 

So I went out there, and I was working and standing on my own two feet for the first time, and I hadn’t ever had a high school diploma. I was kicked out of school because I was too busy helping raise my sister’s kids or drinking, smoking, and running in the streets. So, when I go out there, I’m making money, and it’s only like $55 to get a diploma out here, and I’m like okay this is really attainable. So, I go do a class. I aced all the tests and all this other stuff, so then I got my high school diploma. The next step was to go to college, and I wanted to be an engineer. So, Northern Essex Community College is the place that I went. It was the popular college in the area. I really asked for help with all my professors and they helped me, and I was on the Dean’s List. I was excelling until I got to calculus and differential equations, and then it started to show where I lacked from not graduating high school and not ever being at school, for that matter, so I got a job as an engineer, without a degree. 

I was prototyping for this company out in New Hampshire where I met my wife, and she thought we should move to the West Coast so I could be close to my two kids from a previous and disastrous relationship. When we ended up back here, I became a store manager of O’Reilly’s. First I worked the O’Reilly’s in South San Francisco, within the Asian community. [The residents there] did not respect Black people. They would come in pissed and ask for the manager, and I’d be like, “I’m the manager,” and they’re like, “No, but for real.” Because of those experiences, the company thought it would be a good idea to move me to [a] Black neighborhood, and that that was rough because Hunters Point is no joke. It is a horrible, horrible place. It’s not for the light-hearted. I ended up just walking out after working there for about a year. After that I worked at Audi, and then I eventually ended up at Los Gatos Luxury Cars, where I am right now. 

Sonali Muthukrishnan: What was it like where you grew up?

JN: In Stockton, you can end up in a bad situation really quickly. I grew up in a neighborhood called the North Pole because it’s on the north side. North was the farthest that gang-related people would venture in the ‘80s or ‘90s, when I grew up. Before the North Pole, I lived in Delta Village on Rosemary Lane. It was a kind of decent neighborhood. I grew up around primarily Black, Mexican, and some white people. Now that I look back, I can clearly see the effects of redlining because as a Black person, you are the minority everywhere you go. You are either extremely outnumbered or everyone is Black within the community.

My mom did an alright job, but she is schizophrenic and severely depressed, so she has mental issues. When I was growing up in that neighborhood, she was fairly stable, and she got with a guy named Kenneth. I was deathly afraid of the man as a child. Kenneth was a CRIP. CRIP stands for “community revolution in progress.” It started as something different than it is now. It started as a follow up to Black Panthers because the Black Panthers were taken apart systematically by the government. Then, people were in disarray and all their parents were in jail or dead, so they formed groups to protect their own neighborhoods. One of these gangs was the CRIPs. They were a rough group. They whooped your ass and they tried to infiltrate other neighborhoods, turning everyone into CRIPs. The people that were tough and resisted, because they didn’t want to stand with the CRIPs, turned into Bloods. That’s why Bloods are outnumbered, yet seem tougher —because they refuse to conform, so they would fight. 

It was the ‘80s, so there was a crack epidemic going on. This meant that crack and guns were dumped into the neighborhood, and this created an increase in violence. It was not just boxing anymore. There was also a rising amount of kingpins that made millions of dollars off of dope. Kenneth comes from an area in LA that is filled with this kind of action. He was a part of a gang called East Coast CRIPs, and they’re one of the most notorious Black gangs from LA. Kenneth was huge, taller than six feet with pounds of muscle. He looked like the Hulk in some people’s eyes, and he was my stepdad. He was a known CRIP, and he and my mom would get into fights all the time. My mom’s a tough person, and she can fight. She’ll fight like a man to beat a man. 

I was raised around the idea that people would whoop my ass if I did something wrong, and you couldn’t be afraid of that. I remember we fought people in the neighborhood. We would put boxing gloves on, we’d lay down a blanket, and we’d all box. My stepdad, he would go take us to a boxing club where they would train, because he was an amateur boxer, and that’s what made us want to box too. We fought the other Black, white, or Mexican kids, and people would literally sit around us and watch us beat the crap out of each other. I was deathly afraid to do it, but I did it because that was the neighborhood culture and how it worked with my stepdad. 

I remember one time we actually got into a fight, me and my brother, because these kids tried to jump him. He beat one of them up, and I saw and went to help him. We’re by a playground in my neighborhood on Rosemary Lane and my stepdad is screaming out of the window, saying “You better whoop his ass,” and I’m scared. I’m beating this kid, he’s bleeding out of his nose, and I back him down. He’s acting like he doesn’t want to fight anymore, but he’s not saying that because it was a fight to the death culture. Once I started to back off, my step dad started yelling, “What the hell are you doing? You better whoop his ass, or I’m gonna whoop your ass,” and I just walked away. I was ready to get my ass whooped, but he didn’t do anything to me. That was the kind of atmosphere I grew up in. We were not afraid to fight, but I don’t think I’m a tough guy. 

Soon after, my mom moved up to Alaska with my stepdad, leaving us kids with our aunts and uncles. My Aunt Jody took care of us, and I love her to death, but she was a kid back then. At the time she was having kids, so we’re just moving with her. We ended up in the Bay Area. We had come back and forth to the Bay Area because that’s where my mom grew up, and my grandma lived there. My older brother, sister, and I felt like visitors in my aunt’s house. We never felt at home, and we weren’t really treated like family.

AA: Where did you have your first experience with racism?

JN: My first experience with racism was in the Bay Area. In Richmond, at the elementary school we were going to, the whole school was tagged up with spray paint. Someone had spray painted “Die n*ggers, if you guys come to school tomorrow, you’re gonna die!” We’re frightened, you know, because we’re just kids, so we didn’t go to school for a couple of days. 

We were taking care of my aunt’s kids while she was out. I was eight years old, changing diapers and feeding kids, so we grew up way early. My mom came back after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and we moved back to Stockton. My mom was different, cold to us, so we’re really on our own. North Stockton, California, is where I experienced the crack epidemic and police brutality. 

I still remember my first shooting. I was around 10 years old. I was sitting on the stairs of an apartment complex at 10:00 at night. This car pulls up, and in it is a guy that is friends with my brother. He wasn’t even a CRIP, but he hung out in the neighborhood. He was about 20 years old at the time, but he’s a big dude. I saw his head moving around in the car, and all of a sudden he got out of the car. He’s like, “Man, I’m not even from here though, I’m not from here.” And then I saw people talking to him, pointing at him, and then the car started driving towards me. The guy sitting in the passenger’s seat leans out the window with a shotgun, threatening the guy my brother knows, and I saw him shoot. It was an amazingly loud sound, and I was like, “What the hell is going on?” To this day, I’m not a gun person because of situations like this. But then they shoot again, and the bullet hits him in the leg, and breaks it. He fell on the ground, screaming in agony, from the pit of his stomach. I was frozen to the spot, and the car just kept driving. I slowly started going up the stairs, crawling, just praying that they wouldn’t shoot me. I ran the rest of the way up, and when I got into my house, my brother was standing there. He said to me, “I thought you were dead.” I remember after that the cops and the ambulance coming. My first shooting was a big memory for me, but there were many more. 

Another time, it was Chinese New Year, which is commonly celebrated with fireworks. So I was hanging out with a friend and we were running around. As we ran around the corner, there [was] a car driving with two guys hanging out the side windows. They suddenly started shooting at us, so we were caught in the crossfire of them shooting at other people. They [were] from a gang called the South Mob, and typically Bloods were involved in it. Then, there’s another car shooting at us, as well. Both cars were doing drive-by; it was like a caravan. I’m surprised we didn’t die, but those people don’t know how to shoot, which is great. But yeah, that was Stockton and growing up. 

I remember a guy on those same stairs. There were these CRIPs playing dice, while me and my friends watched. At the time we’re like, “this is great,” because we thought it was cool that they were allowing us to be there. Mind you, I’m like 10 years old at this point. To give you some context, at this point my mom was crazy, so I don’t know where she was at. My brother was a gangbanger by then, so he [was] gone somewhere. And my sister used to disappear for three and four days at a time, at 12 years old, going to house parties, so I was by myself. I vividly remember the cops driving by, and one of the CRIPs said, “Hey, check this out.” He looked at me and put a bag of crack right in my face. He asked me to watch it, and I said yes because we want to be like the older people that got money. What we didn’t know was that if the police pulled up, we would get in trouble. I mean, what would I have done if somebody had come to snatch that crack? You know, all these different things. I mean, there’s a lot of things going on. He’s not only trying to not have dope on him when the police come, so he doesn’t go to jail, but at the same time he’s like molding us into what he is. That’s just a normal mechanism of any neighborhood that you’re in. If you’re in a neighborhood of plumbers, you’re gonna probably be a plumber, you know. 

I’ve seen people shooting at people. I’ve seen people that I know shooting at people in the streets. I’ve seen people get jumped. My brother got jumped into a gang at 13. He started selling dope and providing for us. Because of him, we had food and I had toys, so I was like, “Yeah, let’s all sell dope.” Before that there were times where I didn’t eat for like two days, and we didn’t know what to do. 

When I was a kid we didn’t have toys. Not everybody in the neighborhood had them, but a lot of kids in the neighborhood had toys. We went to Los Angeles on vacation or something. All the kids had toys and we didn’t have toys, so we started stealing them. I remember the first toy I stole was the Micro Machines, which are these little cars. So one day I’m in the store, and I see that there are Micro Machines. I’m like seven years old, and I started pacing back and forth in the aisle. I had asked my mom, “Hey, can I have this,” and she said no because we didn’t have the money. So I opened the package and slipped the toy into my pocket. Once I got home, I played with the toy in secret, but then I took it to school to show it to my friend. My brother saw the toy when I showed it to my friends and he told my mom that I stole it.  My mom whooped my ass so bad, and I didn’t steal for a long time after that. It was all about just having the stuff that everyone else had. 

SM: What do you think have been the least and most effective ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement?

JN: The least effective way is posting a picture when there is no true activism behind it. Posting a picture is great, but if people ask you a question, want to engage with you, or argue with you, and you’re not doing anything, then you’re not doing much. I say if you talk about it you need to be about. So, I’m not a gangster because I’m not going out and doing all the stuff that gangsters do. It would be a lie for me to be like, “Oh, I’m a gangster,” and to tell that lie would just be stupid. However, I see a lot of people, and I know their intentions are somewhat good, but they’re still hiding behind this big facade. That is the world that we live in. It’s not just the United States, but the United States is just the best at doing it because it is the newest place to do it. 

Activism that also does not help is performative activism, joining in to just be a part of the crowd, rather than the cause. There’s a supremacy that people were all taught in the US, and a lot of people don’t get that. Recently, I’ve been reading books and paying attention to a lot of stuff that is geared to races.What I’m reading is not like, “Oh yeah, white people were the evil people and we need to kill them all.” I don’t buy into ideologies that oppress or involve supremacy.

The type of activism that helps is the same things that can be the least helpful. It’s crazy because it’s the same thing that they’re doing. Protesting and posting does help, but you have to embody the cause. It can’t just be a hat that you put on and then take off. If you believe that stuff, you need to really get down and put your neck out there. And I’m saying this to people that are doing this or that want to be a part of this, but I’m not saying that if you’re a Caucasian that you have to do this. I’m not one of those guys that wants everyone to kiss my shoes because my race was oppressed. I’ll never be that guy. But if you’re gonna walk it and preach it, you need to get out there and do something about it, or shut your mouth. 

Activism that helps is using your knowledge and your skills. Your activism has to be smart. If you’re a scientist and you approach activism without applying your science to it, then what’s the point?  You have to think outside of the box. We have to use our skills and abilities to think outside of the box, in order to crush the system. Do something that you can do. 

I can’t stand the words “racism,” “entitlement,” and “white privilege.” That’s because people don’t have to bow down to me. I just want you to see me as a person, regardless of my race. If people were bowing down to me, that’s putting me into a category. It’s the same thing, with a different type of racism. In a lot of ways, these people tend to be more racist than the openly racist people. They victimize Black people, but that is wrong too. 

AA: Do you feel comfortable calling the police?

JN: No, I never have and I never will. When it comes to the police, you’ve got to realize that I’ve been harassed by them many times for no reason. And this harassment has always happened for the wrong reasons. That’s the key right there. There is already a stigma about the police because “we handle our own business.” That was what happened in the US before the police were created. That’s why there were mobs and lynchings, because people “handled their own business.” 

 I’ve called the police once in my life. This situation occurred when I was in a failed relationship with a white girl. At the time I lived in Sacramento, in a Blood neighborhood, within a small apartment complex. One day we were arguing. At the time, I was not a great provider, and there were a lot of things that were going on. There was racial tension and I had masculinity issues because that’s what I was raised around. I couldn’t run from that anymore. But essentially the tension boiled over and we started to fight. Once we really got into it, I decided to leave, so I tried to walk to the door, but she blocked it and refused to let me leave. I’m trying to get her to move out of the way, without touching her, because I know how it goes. If the police come there and I grab her wrist and leave marks, I am going to jail. So I was like, I’m gonna call the police. The downside was that people would think I was weak because I resorted to that, but I didn’t want to hurt her, and I didn’t want her to call them on me, so I did it myself to be proactive. They sent two white cops out there, and now she was being all calm, a total 180 from how she was acting before. One cop takes me outside, the other stays with her. I explained the situation and the cop told me to calm her down, and I told him I had already tried but she was being crazy. They were absolutely no help because they were looking at me like “you don’t need our help, man up,” and at the moment I finally got why we don’t call the cops. 

Another time, I was driving in a lowrider with my mom. At the time, we were living in a CRIP neighborhood, in Stockton, California. We were leaving a gas station and we saw the police drive past, and then they drove past again. I realised that they were trying to get somebody, but I didn’t know who, and then all of a sudden I saw lights in my rearview mirror. We pulled into a motorhome complex, and there were five cop cars that pulled up behind us. They yelled for me to get out of the car, interlace my fingers, and all that stuff, and then they do the same for my mom. They handcuffed me and put me in the back of the cop car, and they rolled down the window. Then they began searching my car. They didn’t even ask me for my license or registration. At the time, I was driving without them, but I let them know as they were searching my car. I also alerted them that there was a buck knife under the front seat, for protection. They were looking for drugs and guns. After they searched the car, they pulled me out and asked if I had any gang tattoos. I told them that I didn’t, but they took a camera out and took pictures of all my tattoos and my face, my mom too. They were putting us into a catalogue of gang members in the area. That is what the gang task force does. In general, they get to do whatever the hell they want. By putting us in that catalogue they would know everything about us if we ever did something illegal. 

They put me back in the car afterward, and it was cold, so I started shaking. One of the cops came up to me to check on me, and he was like, “If I let you out, you aren’t going to do nothing to me,” trying to seem tough. I was like “I’m tense and shaking because I’m cold, my sweater is in the car man.” He went and got it for me, but he kept saying you can’t do anything to me. It was clear that he was scared. They already knew I wasn’t from a gang, I didn’t have weapons, I was cooperating, I was hella skinny, and there were five other cops around; yet he still felt threatened. The cops will turn on you real quick, without a second thought. 

They let us out of the handcuffs, and the cops are surrounding me. I asked them, “Why did you pull me over?” They said that they had “got a report about a car that matches your car’s description. It had two Black males in it, and they shot at one of our squad cars.” I was like, “you expect me to believe that?” This white dude walks up to me trying to calm me down, and the female cop tells him to leave it. Because she can tell that I’m right and I’m pissed about the situation. That white cop kept telling me to calm down, but I had never seen another car that looked like mine because I altered it in a very unique way, and my car was extremely rare. So I was like, you expect me to believe someone in a yellow car, with daytons, super Black and gangster dumped on the police and then proceeded to come to Madison Ave in Sacramento to get beer and then drive casually around the streets. I was pissed, and so my mom and I got into the car and left, and they just left me. They were clearly just profiling, and that’s why they let us leave so easily. They always make these situations up as an excuse to racially profile us and check up on what we are doing. 

Another time, it was Christmas night and we were driving back home after opening presents, and we saw the same thing. The cops cars went one way and then they came back. They kept passing us. At the time we were living in Sacramento. My sister was in the back seat, with my nephew in the middle, who was one at the time, and my sister’s friend. I was in the passenger seat, while my nephew’s grandmother, a white lady, was driving. We got pulled over into a gas station parking lot. The cops demanded that we all come out of the car, so we did, and they demanded that we all get back in the car. They wanted everyone to get out of the car to see who would run, essentially they were trying to get us shot. Then they had everyone get out of the car one by one. They made the driver get out first, then me, I looked to the side and the cops screamed at me, saying “don’t look at me.” They then put me in the back of a cop car with the window rolled down. They got my sister out, and she’s saying, “my son is in the car, my son is in the car, he’s a baby,” but they’re not listening to her. The friend gets out too and they have them stand to the side, handcuffed. The cops then aim all the guns at my nephew because they can’t see him. They then started screaming for my nephew to get out of the car, while my sister was pleading with them, “there’s a baby in the car, please don’t kill my baby!” They just keep ignoring her and then they begin to go up to the car. They got into the car with guns [drawn], but then they saw it was a baby, and they dropped their guns. A cop tried to joke around with me when he was getting me out of the car, but I was like am I supposed to laugh? Do they think that this is a joke? Once they got us out of the car, they said that they had a report that this car was stolen, but we all knew that wasn’t the case. 

SM: What are your feelings on the Los Gatos protests?

JN: The first protest, I was excited to see what was going on. I jogged to get over there, so I was sweating when I got over there. As soon as I walked up people looked at me weird, like “I’ve never seen this guy before.” I moved through the crowd to listen to the speakers better, and people were not saying anything to me. I’m starting to get discouraged because I could have easily said “hey” to these people, but I was like these people are protesting something I have been dealing with my whole life, that they hadn’t noticed until now. So many people have said everything is equal after MLK and the voting act, and I never even bother arguing with those people because they’ve already made up their minds. At that moment I was thinking that these are those same people. Some of them may not be like that anymore, or they really feel bad for those that have died, but this also may be a popularity contest. I mean, who knows? When we talk about activism there are all types of people like that because it’s not just one person. I don’t want to throw everyone into one group, but the vibe that I got from everyone was “you’re an outsider.” I’m not saying that everyone there thought that, but that was the way I felt. 

I was pretty frustrated by that, so in an act of rebellion I took off my shirt. I was hot because I ran, so I just went for it, and I stepped across the road to cool off, but people were eyeing me up. I put it back on, after I had cooled off, and got closer to the crowd to watch the one Black dude talk. He was a super square Black dude, which basically means somebody that fits perfectly into the spot, kind of comes off as perfect. He starts talking about opening up a dialogue with the police, and I was exasperated by that so I turned my back towards him because I wanted everyone to see what I thought. He is naive, he doesn’t realise what is actually going on. There is a dialogue, and that dialogue is “please don’t kill me,” and that isn’t enough. Nothing has worked, so that is why we have to defund the police. Not defund them, as in completely get rid of them, but only leave them with enough money for necessities that they need to uphold the law. Defunding the police means taking away their extra tools and giving back to the community that they are supposed to serve. 

Most of the people at this march are reacting because of what they have seen on the TV, but we aren’t doing this because of that. We are standing up because this is something we experience. We are affected and hurt by the way our community is treated. It’s just not right. It is hurting our people. The protest was a nice gesture, but make it a gesture. Don’t hide behind the facade that you are making real change because real change is hard. Time and time again Black civil rights leaders have been killed to cut off the head of our movement. Marching and posting stuff on social media didn’t do anything back then; it actually made the situation worse. You guys need to step it up because we have to outsmart the people in power. It needs to go further. 

At the second protest, a white lady came up to me to chat, and I told her, “You were the first one to come up to me at one of these and it means a lot to me because it means you actually see me as a person.” She didn’t ask me any stupid questions like, “Is it part of your culture to wear your pants low?” She just talked to me as a person. If she had talked to me in a way that I didn’t understand, we could have worked through that, as people, and she took that chance. She almost teared up. She was like, “I’m sorry you had to go through that and feel that way.” She told me that her and her husband just moved out here and they don’t have any friends because of this. At this protest, two people came up to me, but at the first one it was a single person. At the second rally it was better, but there is still lots of work that needs to be done. 

AA: How do you feel about Black Lives Matter, as an organization?

JN: I am torn about them. I was asked to participate in an open mic, and I most likely will, but what people need to realise is that I have never been a part of that faction and I never will be. My wife wrote a wonderful speech, as a white activist for the movement. They said that they didn’t want to hear from her because she is a white voice. It is really disheartening that people treat real activists like that. I mean Black Lives Matter is heavily funded by white people. What does that say? Schools that are all for Black people and other opportunities like that are also funded by white people. What does that say? It’s the same as victimizing Black people. They only wanted to talk to me. There are a lot of books and people that address this dynamic that a lot of people don’t understand, even Black people. I’m all about the movement, not necessarily about the organization. 

AA: Obviously this movement is centered around Black people and their struggle, but some people feel that this movement could be something for all people of color. How do you feel about that?

JN: I think that this movement is about everybody. The Black Lives Matter movement is about the police. It’s about how people don’t realise that the way the police are militarized and how they act towards Black people comes from racism and is starting to affect other neighborhoods. It comes from not only hating Blacks, it comes from hating Middle Easterns, the wars that we have had with other countries. I mean we still have a vendetta against Mexicans that stems from when we stole their land, and people don’t get that. It is so easy to work together, but there is so much systemic racism that stands in our way, and the ruling class controls that. We are still afraid of things that date back to the crusades, and the news always centers around these situations that create fear. It splits us up, Black people v. white people, but we are similar, so it shouldn’t be that way. We are saying Black Lives Matter, but there’s a reason why Black people are in the predicament we are in. It’s because of systemic racism, and we need to fix that issue, so that we can fix the police. If we can deal with the US and our ongoing issue with racism, then we can deal with everybody and fix it. Hopefully the movement will branch out, so it should be about more people, it shouldn’t just be about one type of person. But I don’t have an issue with people saying Black Lives Matter and that Black people are getting killed like dogs by the police because that is something that is happening. The thing that Black people are fighting, that we are greatly affected by, is also going on all over the world. We have to point it out the way that we see it, in order to knock it out. If people of color share their stories with Black people and we connect and unite, we are going to be so much stronger because of that. We need to talk about what we feel, how we want to be recognised as, who we feel like we are fighting against. If we don’t talk about these issues, we can’t resolve them. We need to see who can be turned, and who is too far gone. We have to reach out to fix the situation. 

SM: Do you have hope for a better future?

JN: I don’t think anyone would be alive if we didn’t. Even the most depressed person has hope. Yeah, I do believe in a better future. I believe that there are so many forces at hand, so there is always going to be pain, but there is a scale and right now we are at a breaking point. The disenfranchised are on the other side of the scale, and the privileged get scared when those people begin to speak out about the issues that affect them. They are afraid because once we unite we will balance the scale, and maybe they will get thrown out. I think that we have got a long way to go, and it’s not about isolation, it’s about seeing everyone as people. This barbaric way of looking at each other needs to be over. There are always bad people in every group, doesn’t that say we are all the same? We need more understanding and we need to remember that this stuff doesn’t change over a day or two. It takes years for us to understand issues and continue to grow. We have to call out the people that don’t want to do that work. Once we make it popular to continue growing, continue learning, continue calling out those that don’t do that work, then we can start to live in utopia. 

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