Friends Sean Hornbuckle, Nick Thomas and DuRon Jackson have helped start a conversation on a metaphorical and literal porch in the Huntington area and beyond.
Now, they’re determined to keep it going.
Inspired and emboldened by events like the killing of George Floyd — a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis last May — the three, along with the help of videographer Josh McComas, have combined to start up a Facebook group and corresponding YouTube video series called “Front Porch Talks” to discuss topics like social justice, police brutality and racial relations. The first two parts of the first episode dropped on Feb. 5 and Feb. 12, respectively, while the second episode debuted on Friday.
With the goal of creating a format for healthy dialogue with input of people from all different walks of life, the group hopes to be a vehicle for change. With around 5,700 views, the first video reached a large audience, and so far the reception and response has been encouraging.
“Everything that I’ve heard has been positive, every single thing,” Thomas said. “There’s one recurring theme that I’ve noticed, we’ve asked the question through all of these different groups: ‘What is it going to take to change? What’s it going to take to make things better?’ And the constant thing is do more of this. Have more of these conversations.”
All three men are firmly entrenched in the Huntington area community. Hornbuckle is a financial advisor and state delegate from the 16th District; Jackson is the program director at the Huntington YMCA; and Thomas is the general manager at River City Subaru.
In the wake of the Floyd murder, Thomas knew it was time to act.
Thomas enlisted the help of his two friends and after some trial and error, a few dinner meetings and some brainstorming, the three settled on the idea of a conversational format and enlisted some star power to help push the platform.
In the first part of episode one, that conversation was held on the porch belonging to Marshall men’s basketball coach Dan D’Antoni as he appeared alongside Thundering Herd assistant coach Cornelius Jackson. Huntington High School football coach Billy Seals joined the group on the second part of the first episode.
D’Antoni and Seals are white men. The other four are Black. All are from West Virginia and have ties to the Huntington area and different experiences to call upon.
But one common thread that D’Antoni, Seals, Cornelius Jackson and DuRon Jackson bring to the table is a professional involvement in athletics, ranging from the Division I college level to high school to youth sports at the YMCA. Once sports returned from the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice and racial issues were a focus. The NBA placed a Black Lives Matter logo on the floor last season. Even WVU placed “BLM” stickers on its football helmets.
So why are athletics a platform to promote social change?
“I think on the field or the court or the pitch, when you’re a player, race is off the table because you have that common goal of winning,” Hornbuckle said. “It truly brings people together, all people, and you’re able to see beyond the obstacles and hurdles in the way because there is that common thread there.
“I think it’s a perfect conduit because it has teamwork and a goal in mind.”
Athletics are also key in reaching youth, where all agree true change will be taught and manifested. That’s the of expertise for people like DuRon Jackson, who sees an influx of impressionable young people on a daily basis at the YMCA.
“At the youth level it’s even more teamwork,” DuRon Jackson said. “Here at the YMCA, we have kids from all different backgrounds and I’d like to say that we are very blessed. We don’t have issues. I’ve never seen a parent want to pull their kid away from a team for playing with another kid. That’s something that we need to do more of is focus on the importance of unity and being as one to get to our common goals from the coaches, to the players, to our volunteers and just to our community in general.
“They only learn that stuff from their parents so it’s on us to make sure that we teach them right and raise them up right.”
The original ideas that led to the Front Porch Talks were born in a time of momentum behind a heightened sense of equality all stemming from Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests and upswell of media attention. In a sense it was a moment in history that felt ripe for the group to capitalize on in terms of continuing the communication that began.
But as the months have faded, there’s a feeling within the group that so too has the country’s newfound racial awareness. Athletics are all about momentum and so is social change, and with plans to continue the video series into the future, including a second season on the horizon this summer, the three are determined not to let their community and beyond slip back into a state of unaware comfortability.
“When it first happened, people were willing to do a lot more than they had in the past,” Hornbuckle said. “That’s why we wanted to get started on it, because we didn’t want to lose momentum, and I kind of feel like we have at this moment. Within the first month or so, that was all the conversation that was out there, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ That’s why we have to keep the conversation going.”
“In order to get the change done that we want to see done that is going to be beneficial to us and filter down to the rest of the community, we need allies,” Thomas added. “And I think this is a step in the right direction with what we’re doing. People can just see that we’re just like everybody else.
“It’s 2021. It’s time to do something different.”