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Everyone Has A Story: La Crosse couple says Black area youth deserve better

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - Meet Jonathon Maye-Cates, your neighbor.

You've probably seen Jonathan at work, tending bar at the Charmant or riding his bike around town.

Jonathan is a great uncle, son, and husband. He and wife Lauri Cafe have been together for 30 years and had their fair share of racism in the past and even now.

Over their thirty-year relationship, the two say they've experienced both subtle and in your face racism but for the most part thought things had changed. The death of George Floyd, the Black man who was kneeled on by Minneapolis police for over eight minutes, ignited a passion in them.

"The situation brought out the fear that I have for Jonathan every day. It also brought out the anger in me. It's 2020. How dare these people still have thoughts like this? It's 2020. It's brought out my passion to educate the people that are willing to listen and possibly think a different way after I have a conversation with them," said Lauri.

Jonathan and Lauri moved to La Crosse eight years ago to live a private, quiet life but now they believe they were sent here for another reason. Their new mission is to help Black kids who Jonathan says shouldn't be dealing with racism.

"Playing guitar, playing with cars, chasing girls…that's what these kids in this community should be doing. They're kids. I feel the urge and the need to help them and stand up for them and speak and do the right things.
How I speak to people, how I carry myself every day is setting an example. It's a burden sometimes," said Jonathan.

In 1959 Jonathan's mother was working at the Black movie theater and met Lee Maye, a Major League Baseball player with a famous song on the radio.
Lee played eleven seasons in the majors as an outfielder for five teams including the Chicago White Sox and the Milwaukee Braves. He married Jonathan's mother and they moved to Milwaukee where they were the only Black family on their block. When they moved to Houston, things were very different.

"I saw Black millionaires for the first time. I saw Black doctors for the first time. I saw Black people that owned their own homes," said Jonathan.

Houston was also eye opening.

"You could buy a gun in a Walgreens. There was a Klu Klux Klan sponsored gun shop on the bus route to school. When I would take the city bus to school I would see it," said Jonathan.

School was a challenge and exposed Jonathan to a life he never knew.

"It was my first day of class. I was chasing a young girl around, just teasing her and the assistant principal yelled at me and put me in my place
and told me to go stand in the hallway. I walked into the hallway and as I leaned up against the wall I saw the word (RACIAL SLUR) go home written on the wall. All I did was turn my back and lean up against that wall and cover it up," said Jonathan.

In the 1950s Black players were not only underpaid but they were mistreated and forced to play injured. It’s no excuse but Lee Maye took it out on Jonathan. Their fights got so bad Jonathan moved out.

George Floyd's death reminded Jonathan of the pain he experienced back then. It's affecting Lauri now too.

"I worry all the time now. It has to stop. It's 2020," said Lauri.

"I'm tired of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. I'm 66-years-old. I've had six decades of this and I've seen a lot of things in my life.
I've seen riots in Cleveland. I've had police officers point guns at me many times," said Jonathan.

The couple say nothing can keep them apart. It couldn't when they met 30 years ago and it certainly will not now. Lauri says they are a perfect match.

"The only thing that's different about us is our age and our skin color.
We're both weird. We both wear glasses, we both love music, we love racing, we both love gardening, we both love animals. That's the only thing that's different about us. We're weird. So why not find your weird mate and be weird together?" said Lauri.

The two think their partnership will affect positive change. Jonathan says if you're not sure how to change your way of thinking...do this.

"I want you to look at people with a fresh eye. Say hello. Ask 'Where ya from? What do ya do?' Sometimes you get a good answer, sometimes you don't, but engage. We're all the same people," said Jonathan.

Heather Armstrong

Heather anchors Live at 5 and co-anchors the weekday 6 & 10 PM newscasts

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