The Detroit Protests, A Family Affair: Grandson Of 1967 Protester Joins Forces With Fellow Student To Create A Bevy Of Peaceful Engagements

WWJ News
June 12, 2020 - 1:39 pm

By Louis Ricard, WWJ 950

Whether it’s 1967 or 2020, Detroit has been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, witnessing both riots and peaceful protests asking for one thing: Change. Fighting for equality is nothing new for the black community. In fact, it has become ingrained in its DNA -- and become part of some family legacies. 

 Thomas Calhoun has yet to graduate from Howard University or legally buy a drink at a bar, but the 20-year-old soon-to-be junior is currently leading hundreds of people on the streets to protest police brutality. And while the life of George Floyd slowly faded away under the knee of a Minneapolis officer last month, the Southfield native’s blood started boiling.

 “I couldn’t even watch it,” Calhoun said. “Just hearing [Floyd] gasp for air was so difficult to deal with. It was scary and a lot of people were outraged by it.”

 Calhoun felt compelled to act, which seems to be a family tradition.

 Back in 1967, Calhoun’s grandfather, Virgil Hobbs, played an important role during the city’s riots, which happened for the same reasons Detroit residents are marching down the streets this year. 

 “They both share a kindness, a passion for what they do and a sense of hope, and that is something that I’m proud of,” said Virna Calhoun. But her son never got to truly witness those similarities as Hobbs died when Calhoun was eight years old. 

 “I never had the opportunity to understand the type of man that he was,” he said. “But I’ve never heard anything but respect and sheer admiration for his passion, his intellect, his dedication.”

 Thomas Virgil Khalfani Calhoun carries more than just his grandfather’s legacy. He also has an innate sense of leadership which he says can be found in the meaning of his second middle name. 

 Both of his parents quickly realized his ability to lead in the fourth grade, when their son started directing the fifth-grade band at MacArthur K-8. 

 “Once he sets his mind in a direction, we can’t stop him,” his father, Thomas, said. 

 Armed with that natural sense of leadership and strong will, the 20-year-old started drawing plans to bring people together and march peacefully in Southfield. While the turnout didn’t quite impress anyone, Calhoun’s family legacy had finally caught up to him.

 However, he quickly realized that working alone would take him only so far.

Sitting in her bed the night after the George Floyd video became viral on social media, Raniyah Reynolds felt antsy to take action, but didn’t know how to proceed. When her friends told her about a march happening in Southfield, the 20-year-old Michigan State University student saw her window of opportunity. There, she met Calhoun, a lone voice in the midst of protestors, but one she could relate to. 

“When I first met him, it was just like ‘Wow, we think alike,’” Reynolds said. “We have the same ideas, but Thomas is more of a big-picture guy and I tend to pay attention to details a little too much, sometimes, so it’s a good partnership.”

After the first Southfield protest he set up on his own, Calhoun and Reynolds organized another one in their city, followed by one in Detroit, and Troy, Clawson, and the list goes on. The number of people rallying alongside them also grew, reaching up to a thousand at one point, most of the time averaging a couple of hundred protesters, though. The duo co-founded The Black Leader’s Reformative Initiative, which is partially responsible for six rallies across the metro-Detroit area since May 28th. 

“Ultimately, the end goal is to always be happy. I don’t think I can be happy seeing myself raising a child in this world right now,” Calhoun said. “That’s why change needs to happen, but I also don’t think I can see myself happy not doing what I love.”

Calhoun did not wake up one day wanting to be a Black Lives Matter activist. No, he woke up wanting to be a rapper, a creator, an artist. He didn’t think twice when taking a stand in May, but Calhoun also just wants to live the life of any other 20-year-old hip-hop artist: Wake up, eat, create, sleep. 

But like some of his predecessors and current peers, the Southfield native knew it was his time to speak up -- regardless of his wishes. Following his grandfather’s footsteps, he just hopes to make Hobbs proud. 

 “It may never happen, or it may have happened already, it’s based on the fact that people believe that what I do, what I’ve done, and what I will continue to do, is working,” he said.

 “To be able to live up to my name, and just create change... It would be the greatest honor.”