While there weren’t tears in his eyes, it felt like there were tears in his voice.
The tone in Mike Boynton’s voice was different. His facial expressions alluded to anger, pain and sadness with a coat of humility running across his face.
The Oklahoma State men’s basketball coach was clearly torn up by the events surrounding the death of George Floyd, which have sparked protest and rage across the country. Boynton shared his thoughts with reporters on a Zoom call Thursday.
“We don’t have to hate each other, because we don’t do everything the same way,” Boynton said. “I think we should appreciate those differences, we should celebrate those differences because that’s what makes — or supposed to make — America the greatest country in the world. Because we do accept that you’re allowed to love who you want, you’re allowed to worship how you want, you just can’t harm other people. That’s a pretty easy thing to do.”
The events in Minnesota mixed in with the controversial deaths in recent history have thwarted America into a sickened state of disbelief.
Many people across the nation – regardless of race – sympathize with the unjust violence, but seeing it on social media isn’t the same as experiencing it in person.
Boynton, who grew up as a young black kid in Brooklyn, New York, saw the other side of what people characterize as “unruly behavior.”
“It’s probably going to sound really awful, but the truth is the only way I can operate, right?” Boynton said. “I never thought about these things being nationwide problems. There was a lot of crime where I grew up. In some ways the police kind of became the enemy.”
Drugs – for obvious reasons – have a bad connotation associated with it, but for the community Boynton grew up in, dealing drugs almost became a way of life.
“That’s how they made a living to take care of their families,” Boynton said. “They weren’t trying, intentionally, to hurt anybody. The thought process was, the people who buy drugs want to buy drugs. They’re going to buy them somewhere. If I can help my family by being a part of that, then that’s the way I make a living.”
And that’s the other side of the coin.
Boynton acknowledged that these crimes are wrong and should absolutely be handled the way they are, but said people should take the time to understand the other side and why others would do these illegal acts.
Growing up, Boynton said the mindset in his community wasn’t that those people were doing something wrong, it was that these people could feed their families and pay rent.
“Right, wrong and different, I wasn’t there to judge them,” Boynton said. “Growing up in Brooklyn, I didn’t have a problem with some of the things that were right in my face that were wrong. I understand now, and I speak – to those people who still live there and may be involved in those activities – to their hearts and tell them: ‘There’s a better way.’”
How is that achieved?
“It starts with education,” Boynton said. “I’ve always thought that education is the biggest avenue to escape poverty, because it gives you an opportunity to learn, meet and be involved with other things outside of your little bubble.”
It’s important because these are the backgrounds of people that are stereotyped, which has seemingly caused a divide in America and led to this violence.
But in the end, Boynton stressed that they’re just people. Even if their skin color is different, they’re still people.
Boynton brought up the fact that his wife, Jenny Boynton, is white. They have biracial children, they grew up eating dinner at different times, but that doesn’t divide them.
His point is, having differences it’s OK, it’s cool – it doesn’t need to result in violence and hatred.
“I’ll say this: we’re much more similar than we are different,” Boynton said. “We are. We all want our kids to go to good schools. We all want our families to be safe. We all want to make good money and have good jobs. Those things are great. Now we just have to accept that people go about those things in a different way.”
When asked how America can see real change, Boynton said it’s not easy, but it’s going to start with all people willing to get uncomfortable and having those conversations.
“We have to be willing to challenge those within our circle who resist that,” Boynton said. “It’s one thing to stand up and say, ‘I’m not racist, discriminatory, abusive,’ but if you allow those who you interact with on a consistent basis to do those things or act that way or live that way, then you’re not helping either.”
Boynton acknowledged how difficult it is to have those conversations, but said that’s the way to move forward as a society.
It truly is a grueling task, but Boynton has been all around the country, talking to different people and seeing life operate differently. And that’s helped him.
And with all of the damaging violence that has occurred in the country, one sticks out to Boynton in particular.
“The Sandy Hook elementary deal rocked me to my knees,” Boynton said. “Because those were innocent children who probably – when that man walked in with a gun – thought he was a friend of theirs. They probably were smiling like, ‘Hey, there’s a nice guy in here,’ who was there to massacre them. We didn’t, as a country, take any action after that. I don’t know how that could happen.
"This is a situation right now because of the recent killings of unarmed African American people, but we have a bigger problem societally, we don’t love each other enough, we don’t help each other enough. We have to do better.”