GREENSBORO — In the car, in the dark, by the side of the road, a white man got mad and a Black man was nervous.
Educator Marcus Gause, who is Black, had been pulled over for speeding.
Fellow educator Erik Naglee, who is white, was seething after hearing the officer question Gause in a way that Naglee had never experienced in all his times being pulled over.
But while Naglee was gearing up to complain, Gause was talking his colleague down, worried it might provoke the officer into reacting badly.
“I don’t think he realized that it was important for us to survive and make it home,” Gause recalled.
Now, nearly two decades later, Gause and Naglee are high school principals in Guilford County who’ve teamed up to help people think and talk about race and about how they can create a fairer society.
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Thus far, their initiative, “Greyt Expectations,” has included speaking engagements and a series of podcast episodes released late last year. They hope to expand into training, possibly at schools, businesses or other institutions.
The initiative’s name is a pun, with “Greyt” instead of “Great.” Grey is what you get when the colors black and white are mixed — a reference to Gause and Naglee’s races. It’s also supposed to evoke the idea of people of different races coming together in conversation, with open minds, ready to delve into “grey areas” where answers are ambiguous.
Gause (the principal of Andrews High School in High Point) and Naglee (the principal of Page High in Greensboro) are hoping that the friendship and trust they’ve built can help others feel more comfortable having the kind of conversations about race they’ve cultivated in the many years since that traffic stop.
“There was a portion of that ride that was really quiet after that, but then, of course, we started talking again,” Gause said. “I think that his sincerity of wanting to understand ... was probably one of the most pivotal pieces, even in our relationship.”
At the time, Gause and Naglee were carpool buddies of convenience — two Guilford County educators taking twice-a-week graduate classes with other educators in a UNC-Chapel Hill program in Lee County.
During that time and over the years, their friendship strengthened and deepened. It has included learning about their differences while also relating to each other because of their similarities, like as dads and principals.
“What I realized even more so as I transitioned to Page, the conversations that he and I would have as a white male and a Black male helped prepare me so much more to lead a school that was 70% minority and I was the white man coming in to lead that school,” Naglee explained.
The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in 2020 was a catalyst for Gause and Naglee to start having serious talks about how they might create safe spaces for conversations about race and racial justice.
In 2021, they started Greyt Expectations with help from the Guilford Education Alliance, a nonprofit organization that serves as a booster to Guilford County Schools. Gause and Naglee have talked about making a business out of the venture, although they don’t ever see making money as the focus. For now, though, their project is housed within the alliance.
“Busy principals, busy fathers — I mean, they manage two of the most complex schools in our system, maybe in the state,” said Winston McGregor, the president of the Guilford Education Alliance. “We said, ‘Can we help you?’”
One big way the Guilford Education Alliance has helped is through its “Bright Futures” podcast, which generally focuses on education issues. However, the organization allotted four episodes of the podcast to Greyt Expectations. In the first episode, McGregor interviewed Naglee and Gause about their relationship and the initiative.
In the other three episodes, Gause and Naglee conduct their own interviews. Those include a Guilford County Schools and N.C. A&T graduate who started a business to increase opportunities for minorities seeking jobs, and the founders of a nonprofit that works with sports teams and student clubs to create dialogues about race.
Marci Peace, who is the chief financial officer of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and the mother of two Grimsley High School students, is a listener.
Peace, who is white, said she felt proud of Guilford County Schools, and also a bit envious of the two principals’ longstanding relationship and trust in each other to talk about potentially uncomfortable topics across racial lines.
She had a couple takeaways from their podcast. One was Gause’s advice to go into tough conversations with an open mind. Another was a term she remembers McGregor using — “co-conspirator” to indicate a level above just being supportive of efforts to bring about racial justice.
“You actually need to be someone who is pushing to change the dynamics in the system,” Peace said. “I hope I can be a co-conspirator more than an ally.”