In front of 3,000 protesters at Fresno police headquarters, Chris Milton delivered a strong message on the path from poverty to empowerment.
“Build your equity! Your equity. Your equity. That’s the thing that cannot be taken from you,” Milton said during Sunday’s protest over inequality and policing practices following the death of George Floyd.
To make sure that a debunked threat of a riot at River Park never came to pass, Milton also recruited volunteers to protect businesses and shoppers there Tuesday.
Milton continues to spread his message: The best way to prevent problems between the black community and police is to own your own businesses and homes and you’ll police them yourself.
Own Your Own
For Milton, equity expands beyond just ownership.
“When we start talking about personal equity, those are the things that you build on top of — where you build your resume, put the notches in your belt. Whether it’s through education, experience, making a footprint, or expanding your reach, building your equity. That’s the whole purpose of what I was trying to convey,” Milton said.
To achieve those goals requires strategic strategies, Milton said.
For example, Milton said instead of lining the block to buy a pair of $200 Air Jordans, pool the money with friends to invest.
“Start buying stock, start putting money towards real estate, start doing stuff like that, then that’s when we can start owning our communities. When you own your community, you can police it. You don’t need the police to come in and control you,” Milton said.
A lack of opportunity is the biggest impediment to advancing economically for the black community, Milton said.
Historic redlining — the practice of restricting where communities of color can live — still exists, he said.
“I believe that there is an invisible red line that is still segregating the blacks to the west side of Highway 99,” Milton said. “I think as long as that they’re over there, nobody really cares. We’re going to put just enough money over there to keep (people) quiet.”
Milton is still trying to find the best way to teach those principles to the black youth of Fresno. He formed an informal group with his friends that include other businessmen and local politicians.
“I think now is truly time to step up, be even more so vocal and again, do some things different,” Milton said.
During his speech Sunday, Milton said that those who run gangs have management potential. They just need to use their skills for good.
What Milton Told His Sons About the Police
As his Twitter handle @fatherofballers suggests, Milton’s two sons are football players. Ka’lonn played defensive back for Fresno State and Fort Lewis College. Kendall was a highly touted recruit out of Buchanan High School. He is entering his freshman season as a running back for the powerhouse Georgia program.
Growing up, Milton told his sons what to do if interacting with police.
“It is sad and unfortunate. It breaks my heart. But I tell my kids that if you get pulled over from a police officer, as soon as the lights come on, first and foremost, call me. …
“Second, when you pull the car over, take the keys out, and set them on the dashboard. Put your hands on the steering wheel. When law enforcement asks for your driver’s license and registration, you tell them, ‘my license is in my glove box or is in my pocket. Do you want to get it or do you want me to get it?’
“I teach my kids to walk them through exactly what you’re doing because you don’t want to give them a reason, a justification to say ‘I thought he was reaching for something,’ ” Milton said.
A Better Relationship with Police
“It burns you up. If you don’t know how to navigate those feelings, you can easily pop off.” — Chris Milton
Milton said he’s had some bad experience with police.
“I hate to use the word helpless because I don’t want to sound vulnerable, but (I feel) helpless because the fact is, you don’t have power,” Milton said. “At the end of the day, it’s your word against someone else’s.
“It burns you up. If you don’t know how to navigate those feelings, you can easily pop off.”
His solution is sensitivity training for police, to understand how different cultures react and behave.
“When you interact with black folks — you see me, I talk with my hands. I’m passionate about what I’m passionate about. I raise my voice. I might get animated. From the outside looking in, if you don’t understand, that looks aggressive,” Milton said.
“When you don’t understand that, the situation immediately heightens. Because they take that as a threat rather than ‘I really just want to talk. You let me get this out. Yeah, we’re good,’ ” Milton said.
Fix the Schools
College isn’t for everyone, Milton said. That’s why he advocates for career technical education in school.
“We need to start introducing technical skills to these kids. Trade skills to show you can make $100,000 a year without going to college because of what’s inside of your head and how you use hands,” Milton said. “We don’t create those opportunities. We don’t give exposure. That’s one thing that has to change.”
Milton wants more school credit for things like shop class.
“We’re so busy worried about dress code. We’re so busy worried about if the kids are showing tattoos or if the kids have earrings in their ear. Then, you know what? If you’re going to worry about that, then let’s also worry about building them up,” Milton said.
Family and Business
Milton grew up in Oakland and Fairfield. He moved his family to Fresno in 2004.
“It was a good move for the kids just because the Bay Area is a lot faster than here. Also, this is more of a family structure, a little closer community where you can actually enjoy life and have a good work-life balance,” Milton said.
Today, Milton runs a local business that he requested to not be identified.
Despite his business success, Milton regretted not finishing college. Recently, he rectified that, completing his college education with a business degree from the University of Phoenix.
“I got to this point of where I am through hustle, through having the right people around me, through people giving me the opportunity to prove myself and then capitalizing on that,” Milton said.
The crowd at Sunday’s protest and the reception he’s received on social media has given Milton hope for a better future.
“Dr. King spoke about it in the 1960s when he was in the Birmingham jail and he was talking about the moderate white who remained silent during this time. And they are complicit because they don’t stop the problem. (Now) people are speaking up. And I thank them for that. I thank them for that.”