This story originally appears in the June 4th, 2020 print edition of the Smart Reader magazine.
While tensions rose in the city of Kenosha last Sunday, May 31st, following the local march protesting police violence and the murder of Minneapolis citizen George Floyd, many residents did not know what to expect. Some were angry at the racism in the world, some were fearful of what might come of the march, some were excited to possibly see some positive change in our world.
But one man, 31-year-old Downtown Kenosha resident Koerri Elijah, took a different approach. On Sunday, he grabbed his skateboard and his cell phone and took to the streets, broadcasting on Facebook Live.
Within a few hours, Elijah was in the midst of a mass gathering on 52nd Street. A few protesters turned to violence, throwing rocks at police cars and causing vandalism to local businesses.
Throughout it all, Elijah kept his cool, as well as his distance, but continued to cover the activities. And his Facebook feed took off, with over 7,000 people watching at one time.
When the activities died down Sunday night, Elijah continued to cover the area. He quickly zig-zagged throughout our city on his skateboard while showing the world our city through his eyes.
As the local police scanners announced calls which later were debunked, Elijah was there live to let everyone know what was really happening. Elijah’s calming personality rubbed off on the viewers, as he inadvertently alleviated tensions in our city with his presentation of the experience.
Thanks to Koerri Elijah, Kenosha had it’s own live reality show. And the residents of our city responded in mass droves. While Elijah skated through our streets, residents cheered him on from windows, honked their horns as they drove by, delivered snacks and water to him, gave him rides to check out rumors around the city (and to sit for a few minutes), and even donated their phone chargers to keep him live.
On Monday night, June 1st, as the curfew went into effect across our city and the people did not know what to expect, Koerri went out again. And thousands of people tuned in again.
Viewers were able to see in real time that the streets were calm. Business owners were able to sleep restfully knowing that their stores were not tampered with.
For a third night in a row, Elijah took to the streets and to Facebook Live, this time starting at the Kneel for Nine protest event which was held at Civic Center Park on Tuesday evening.
Tensions were rising again throughout the city as rumors spread of outsiders possibly coming in to incite violence and some local citizens taking up arms in the streets to protect themselves.
However, the event, which also included a march through Downtown Kenosha, was a huge success, with a thousand supporters and zero violence. When the march quieted down around 8 p.m. (just in time for the city curfew), most of the participants went home, assumably very happy with the result of the event.
But Koerri stayed on the streets, riding his skateboard from Downtown to Uptown Kenosha, back and forth. And even though the evening was quiet and without violence, the people still tuned in. There were over 500 viewers at 10 p.m. Tuesday night, by which time Koerri was confident that the city was peaceful and he was ready for bed.
The day following the Kneel for Nine event, we caught up with Koerri and he was happy to answer some of our questions.
Q: It’s Wednesday morning, you’ve spent hours and hours over the last three days on your skateboard touring the city, how do you feel today physically?
A: I’m kind of sore, but it’s not anything I’m not really used to.
Q: How do you feel mentally?
A: I have been getting so much positive energy from people, all those vibes being soaked in, I feel great.
Q: How long have you been skateboarding?
A: I have been skateboarding since I was 11, so twenty years now.
A: It’s a Nickel, by Penny skateboards. It’s a 27” board with these nice jelly wheels, it’s a real smooth ride. I own multiple boards, I have many aggressive skateboards for the skate parks, but this one is nice for the roads.
Q: Where is your favorite place in town to take the board to bust out some tricks?
A: Trick-wise, I like to go to Basik by Tremper. When I was younger, we spent years collecting funds to create it. So every chance I get, I like to go out there and bask in what we built there.
Q: How can you ride a skateboard on these streets while holding a phone and reading messages? I can barely walk and check my phone at the same time.
A: I’m a millennial (laughs). It’s second nature for me to do several things at once!
Q: What was your mental process before you went live on Facebook Sunday night? What made you decide to go live?
A: I knew the event was going on, there was a lot of chatter online. I was intrigued by what was going on. I have gone live many other times at events or other things. So, I just did what I naturally do, and it picked up steam.
Q: What were your experiences like dealing with the Kenosha Police Department during the last three days?
A: My personal experience was very positive. It was crazy, but great. Yesterday (Tuesday) Sheriff David Beth came up to me and hand delivered some homemade oatmeal raisin cookies, which are my favorite. Everything was very positive.
Q: What was your most memorable moment throughout this experience?
A: I can’t pinpoint a specific moment. It was the overall unity in community — just seeing all the different people, different races, different backgrounds, all gathered together, supporting each other and peacefully expressing their frustrations. It was great to see.
Q: How do you feel overall about how the Kenosha community handled this situation?
A: Overall, I think things went well, especially considering how things were going in other places across the nation. There still were some local businesses which suffered some damages, that was horrible. We cannot condone that. I am hoping the people of the community will help them get their businesses back on track because they deserve it.
Q: How do you maintain such a positive attitude while seeing some of the worst people have to offer?
A: I can attribute my life experiences and my upbringing. I was raised to believe in love and give out the energy you wish to receive.
Q: Were you surprised to have so many people tune in for your videos?
A: I was. But I was more surprised by the people in the community watching and interacting with me, people were cheering me on out of windows, they were giving me gifts. It was awesome and incredible.
Q: Some people have referred to you as a hero for Kenosha, how would you reply to that?
A: I’m just Koerri. Thanks for the kind words. But I’m just a regular person.
Q: I know this is a tough question, but do you have a solution to the systematic racism in our area and throughout our nation?
A: I am just one guy. I have ideas, but I would never expect people to latch on to what I say.
I feel that education is most important, and not specifically classroom education, but life experiences. I recommend that you interact with people different than you; go into your community and help out people who need it. Regardless if someone looks different than you, has a different background that you, a different economic status – feel those experiences firsthand.
Also, make sure you express your feelings, don’t let them bottle up inside of you. That usually doesn’t lead to anything good. Let people know how you feel, express yourself.
And of course, get out there and vote. And make sure you are voting for candidates who represent the demographics of your community. We want people who will represent everyone and be able to find that middle ground. It’s up to the people to make that happen.
And don’t forget: everybody’s human.
Q: What films do you feel are important for white people to witness the black experience?
A: First off, let me say that getting into the community is the best things you can do to for the experience.
But when you are home watching a movie, I would recommend the 2016 version of “Roots,” that is essential – check that out to see what black people have dealt with over a long period of time.
Another one is “Glory” (1989), which exposes many of the things black people have done for our nation and how they were treated.
The 2016 documentary “13th,” by Ava DuVernay, I would also highly recommend.
But for a film that everybody should see, check out “Do the Right Thing” (1989). This is essential viewing for everyone out there. It teaches you to think about what you are about to do. Cops, think about what you are about to do. Citizens, think about what you are about to do.
Q: Do you plan on pursuing a career in journalism?
A: It’s something I have considered. I live life how things happen. Things can always change.
Q: What is your opinion of journalistic integrity in the United States today?
A: It’s tough. When you are dealing with giant corporations (and even smaller ones), they have a bottom line; they have to sell ads and cater to their advertisers. It’s understandable to see some of the decisions that they make, but allowing the bottom line to affect your reporting destroys any integrity. Don’t allow your sponsors to speak for you – that is not news.
But there are a lot of people who get out on the streets, who have their own blogs, and they have managed to move up the ranks and they have joined these large platforms and are trying to maintain their integrity. I would tell the average news watcher this: look at everything, don’t take one person’s account as absolute truth, and check your sources.
Q: I see you have recently started a podcast, can you tell us more about that?
A: I have been doing several podcasts over the years, some about gaming and entertainment. My most recent one is titled “Oh Word with Koerii Elijah.” It’s a simple show, about me, I am the only host and I talk about things that I find intriguing. When things happen, events happen, I come across different people, that’s what I highlight.
Q: You have two kids, an infant son and 6-year-old daughter, what is your favorite ‘dad joke’?
A: I do not have one specific dad joke, I just let them fly. I wouldn’t be a dad if I didn’t do that. I do a ‘fist bump explosion’ with them – my daughter is getting a little older, so I get an eye roll from her sometimes, but my son just laughs and laughs every time I do it, it’s so cool.
Q: You have put miles and miles on your skateboard over the last three nights, things appear to remain quiet in Kenosha – so what’s your plan for tonight (Wednesday)?
A: I would really like to get some rest. But I am always doing something. I do another podcast with a buddy of mine, its a gaming podcast called “Play Legit.” We do that on Wednesdays, so I will be doing that tonight. If there is anything going on, I’m sure people will let me know, and if need be, I’ll take to the streets.
By Jason Hedman
Getting to know Koerri
Favorite video game system?
Playstation – all generations
Favorite video game of all time?
Final Fantasy VII
Favorite restaurant in Kenosha?
Trolley Dogs or Big Star
Apple or Android?
What is your most used emoji?
The crying/laughing guy
What do you like to do on a day off?
Hang out with the kids, go to the movies, record a podcast, go skateboarding, make some music, livestream some gaming on Twitch. There’s always something to do. I really miss going to the movies right now.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot?
I do not. For the past five years or so, all of my vacations have been at Comic-Cons. But recently that has become more of a job for me with the podcasts. So, I will have to find a nice quiet place somewhere soon.
Summer or winter?
Who do you look up to professionally?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was teetering between a chef or an actor.
Best advice you’ve ever received:
Lead with love.
What is your go to karaoke song?
Currently it would be “Dragonball Durag” by Thundercats. Very catchy tune.
Sigourney Weaver/ Shia LaBeouf
Favorite streaming service?
They all have something you can enjoy. Right now, I’m on HBO Max because it’s new.