Meet Graelin C. Kimbrough, The Community Discussion Leader
Photos by Christine Craddock
On May 25, police in Minnesota arrested and killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man; this caused nationwide riots and jump started the Black Lives Matter movement. A Black man from Gainesville responded by establishing himself as a community discussion leader. Enter Graelin C. Kimbrough, a former police officer, father of three, and community activist who wants to create meaningful change by welcoming open and honest dialogue.
On June 3, while the nation was bleeding with its open wound of racial division, Kimbrough quietly posted in the Western Prince William Chatter Facebook group: “… many people have honest questions about … the Black experience. Too many people talk about us, not enough people talk to us… I am willing to give you the answers I have … Send me a message in my DM and I will respond here.” Just three days later, Kimbrough closed the chapter on his law enforcement career.
By posting publicly on Facebook, Kimbrough pledged to help his local community in Gainesville by soothing the racial conflicts and encouraging questions in a safe, judgment-free forum. His initiative would soon lead him to be a guest panelist in race-based community discussions as he freely made himself available as a sounding board and moderator de facto of discussions about Black people.
Born in San Diego, California into a military family, Kimbrough moved a lot in his youth, racking up some difficult life experiences among the gang culture in San Diego and college life as a single father in Detroit, Michigan. His parents divorced when he was 16, leading him to fend for himself. In 2006, Kimbrough moved to Virginia to work as a police officer for the state and later, in federal law enforcement, but after nearly ten years, he chose to leave the police force because “it has taken a lot out of my health,” noting that the BLM movement was a series of coincidences and that his mounting health problems most significantly contributed to him leaving his job.
He experienced “structural problems in society with race and discrimination” on the job and in his personal life, stating they were more than he could handle. On top of that, he felt his education was never enough to get him ahead. Closely bonded to his mother, Kimbrough accepted “mom pushing me to higher levels of education” and believing he “always had to do more to get promotions.” “Knowing I had to do more work than coworkers was very difficult. I had to show better metrics in performance to get equal treatment,” explained Kimbrough matter-of-factly.
He also explained the difficulties of being a supervisor, having a team of Black officers to manage, and seeing his team underperform. Although he was “blessed to handle that, there was a lack of institutional support.” The words a senior officer had told him years before rang true: “I was too black to be blue, therefore, I was purple.”
Kimbrough has lived through a lot: starting his adult journey at the ripe age of 16, experiencing his parents divorcing, moving and acclimating to dangerous cities, raising a child on his own, trying to improve his life through advanced education and a respectable career in law enforcement while dealing with internal problems and racism. Now married and a father of three, Kimbrough never let his life challenges define him. He used past difficulties to breathe new life into thoughtful conversation with his community.
“Erudite conversations have been important to me for the last seven to eight years,” he noted, and after the George Floyd incident, “I saw all this angry fighting as misguided. People were trying to get at something.” Not prompted by anyone except his own conscience and a desire to effect a sort of peace and calmness that was sorely needed, Kimbrough posted a simple message on Facebook hoping people would ask open questions about the Black experience. He accepted questions privately and “reserved judgment and provided information with context and nuance.”
“You just need to listen. People want to be heard.” Kimbrough learned those lessons in law enforcement and applied them with a modern context to what he perceived was confusion and unanswered questions about Black people. The community in the Facebook group supported Kimbrough and responded favorably to his open communications and peacemaking mission.
Kimbrough is now a program administrator for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and will surely fulfill his duties with the same compassion and care he has exercised his entire life. Despite his success as a community discussion leader, Kimbrough is quick to humble himself as just “a contributing member of society” ready to do “community work” without pretentious labels. A sign of a great leader.