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What’s Going On: A Black-and-White Message to Saratoga

'Saratoga Living' is striving to be on the right side of the city's history.

The son of a former slave, jockey Isaac B. Murphy, who competed between 1876- 1895, was inducted into Saratoga’s National Racing Hall of Fame in 1955.

As a kid growing up in Saratoga, a town that is more than 90 percent white and just two percent black, I was largely oblivious to what my skin color meant in the grand scheme of things. For my colleague, Art Director Steve Teabout, who grew up 40 minutes southwest of Saratoga in Amsterdam, though, it was constantly on his mind. “When I was younger, it was really, really hard for me, because my father was African American and my mom was white,” he says. “I would get racism from white people, being called the typical racial slurs; and sometimes, from other black people, I would get told that I wasn’t black enough. It wasn’t until high school where I felt really comfortable in my own skin, that I had the best of both worlds.”

In just a handful of months, Saratoga—and to a greater extent, the entire world—has sprung into action on the topic of race relations. Yes, there’s a global pandemic still going on out there that has forced us to make a number of personal sacrifices, but the real ones need to come from our hearts. Many of us have done this by marching in Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, which first erupted worldwide in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer on Memorial Day. Prominent city leaders, including the mayor and commissioners of finance and public safety, have marched in BLM protests; and a Saratoga Springs Police Department officer was even photographed kneeling with and embracing protesters.

While Teabout says he was never personally harassed by police officers in his hometown, he does say that the Floyd murder is “eye-opening, because you see something like that happen, and OK, granted, [Floyd] didn’t have a clean record or rap sheet, but he was in handcuffs and wasn’t resisting.” As for the officer being down on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes, Teabout says, “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” In his mind, the protests have already begun effecting positive change. “I have a cousin who lives really close to our [Saratoga Springs] offices, and he says he sees people protesting out there just about every day,” he says. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

From Empire Media Network’s perspective, the BLM protests couldn’t be more “Saratoga.” They align with our city’s values of inclusivity, something that’s historically been part of its nature. Most relevant to this magazine, black jockeys were landing mounts at Saratoga Race Course as early as the 1880s; and five of them—Shelby Barnes, Anthony Hamilton, Isaac B. Murphy, Willie Simms and Jimmy Winkfield—have been enshrined at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In recent years, local racing fans have cheered on black jockey Kendrick Carmouche, who was ranked No.11 in the jockey standings at the Spa last summer. Other examples of Saratoga’s ethos of inclusivity include the opening of Hattie’s Chicken Shack in 1938, one of the first black-woman-owned businesses of its kind in the region; Caffè Lena booking a black man as its first headliner in 1960; and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center choosing Harry Belafonte, a noted Civil Rights activist, to be its first nonclassical performer in 1967.

By the time this issue comes out, the Capital Region should be well into phase four of the state’s reopening plan. While many COVID-19 restrictions will still be in place for months to come, here’s to hoping that the peaceful protests continue and protesters’ voices continue to be heard. Above all else, it’s our goal at Empire Media Network to support this wonderful community. Black lives truly do matter to us—and they should to you, too.   

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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