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Tim Bibb talks with a Winston-Salem police officer Wednesday. Bibb, who works for Hope Lawn Care, was working in a yard when someone called police, reporting that he and other workers were suspicious.

Tim Bibb — pastor, father and sometime crew leader for a local landscape company that goes out of its way to hire and mentor young men in need of a break — reported Wednesday to a job site.

He was feeling pretty good. Just the night before, more than 1,000 people had turned out in downtown Winston-Salem to peacefully protest the death of George Floyd and inherent racism, and advocate for positive change.

Exactly the kind of lesson Bibb aims to model for his young charges.

And yet barely 12 hours after the last of the protesters had disbanded, Bibb and the three young men working with him got a brutal reminder of what they had been marching for when a woman called the police on them.

For doing yard work. While black. And brown.

“We have shovels, rakes and a wheelbarrow. There’s no mistaking that we were doing lawn care,” Bibb said. “I was dumbfounded.

He laughed before continuing. What else could he do?

“We were casing the neighborhood … with rakes?”

Not a joke

One of the kids Bibb brought with him was his own son. The other two are students at the Winston-Salem Street School, a private alternative high school serving at-risk youth since 2004.

“A second chance, a restart, whatever you want to call it, our students come to us for a reason,” said Mike Foster, the school’s executive director.

Not giving up on a kid, in other words. God’s work.

At any rate, earlier this spring an outfit called Hope Lawn Care, run by Sarah and Mike Avery, reached out to the Street School with a proposition.

We’re trying to do the same things with our business. How about we hire a couple of your students?

Done and done. The new partnership dovetailed and roared off to a smooth, productive start.

Then Wednesday morning happened; it was no aberration.

This kind of thing, sadly, happens all the time. A white woman calls New York police on an African American birdwatcher. A self-appointed pool guardian demands ID from a black woman using her own neighborhood pool here in Winston-Salem. You know the story.

So Bibb took his guys out to a job in the northern end of the city. He didn’t want to say where exactly because he “didn’t want people showing up on the woman’s doorstep” later.

Think on that for a minute.

He didn’t want to cause trouble for somebody who had called the cops on him and his guys — a crew of four, three black and one Hispanic.

Not long after they’d started, around 9 a.m., Bibb said he noticed a woman eyeballing them while driving slowly past. He saw her pass by a second time and a third. Then she was talking on a cellphone.

“We were joking, ‘Look, she’s calling the police,’” he said.

But as he would soon learn, as would the good people at the Winston-Salem Street School, it was no joke.

“The timing is unreal,” Foster said. “It’s hard to make it up.”

Embarrassed and upset, too

Within a matter of minutes, a Winston-Salem police officer showed up. Cops don’t get to pick and choose which calls they answer, nor do they get to decide on their validity beforehand.

Not that it matters — they’re all blue — but this particular cop was a white female. She told Bibb that someone phoned in “suspicious activity” in the neighborhood.

With rakes, shovels and a wheelbarrow.

“She was just as embarrassed and upset as we were,” Bibb said.

Bibb’s gut reaction was anger and bewilderment. He had seen what had happened downtown just the night before and approved heartily.

And the next thing he knew, he had been profiled by a neighbor and was answering questions from the police. His guys — remember, they’re young men between 16 and 18 — were livid.

After a few minutes’ reflection, he saw it as a teaching moment. He was still upset, and with good reason.

“We try to teach them not just job skills or how to run a business, but the value of people of color and to know your own value,” he said. “As a black man in America, you don’t have the right to show sadness. Some people see it as a sign of weakness, and you have to act like nothing happened.”

The lesson that Pastor Bibb wanted to impart was that it’s understandable to be angry, and it’s also OK to be sad. Make your feelings known — they’re valid — but don’t bury them or lash out indiscriminately.

Foster, when he heard, imparted the same message.

“Unfortunately for these kids, this wasn’t their first rodeo,” he said. “They’ve dealt with instances like this before. All we can do is love on ’em and let ’em know we’re here.”

And that they’re not alone.

A crowd of more than 1,000 marching through downtown just the night before, hopefully, showed just that.

ssexton@wsjournal.com

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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