As George Floyd was laid to rest, I was reminded that after the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, I realized for the first time that black adolescents were at greater risk of harm than their white peers. I was actually embarrassed that it took me so long to understand that the typical bravado and unwarranted self-assurance of an adolescent may be seen as menacing and threatening because of the color of their skin. That in a moment an innocent uncalculated gesture could be misinterpreted resulting in life threatening harm. A Black colleague of mine shared with me that the racial unrest of the last couple of weeks has brought to the surface the constant fear she lives with knowing that her child could be subjected to violence simply because of skin color. When I think of all the Black children and youth we serve and the behavior they display that is rooted in the traumas they have experienced I worry that they too may be misinterpreted and as a result be in jeopardy.
As I shared my concern with Black friends, they all told me of “the talk” that their parents had with them cautioning them to be careful outside the comfort of their own homes especially of law enforcement. That kind of suspicion is reinforced by the blatant murder of George Floyd and the countless other incidents of fatal interventions by law enforcement that resulted in the killing of unarmed Black Americans.
As much as we point to civil rights reforms, there can be no denying that racism is the dominant undercurrent of our culture. Racism is the legacy of centuries of slavery and is a constant reality that haunts our society as a whole and presents a daily threat to the Black community and indeed all people of color.
The protests that have swept our nation have brought together people of all races, genders, ages, sexual orientations and socioeconomic status to raise a voice for change. The change is long overdue. In the midst of the unrest, we have witnessed something remarkable, a commonly held desire for justice and equality. The most compelling scenes have been of law enforcement and civil rights activists standing together to protest the lingering effects of racism and call for change.
Authentic change comes about when we can admit that there are stereotypes and biases that influence how we perceive one another. Change happens when we let go of the fears we have of those who are different and embrace the diversity that has the potential to enrich our lives and our communities. Change comes about when we understand the privilege we enjoy and our responsibility to use it for the advancement of freedom and justice for all regardless of skin color.
Much has been said since George Floyd’s death, voices have been raised to express horror, anger, sadness and resolve. Words are empty expressions unless they are followed by decisive commitments to finally change the status quo and get back on the journey begun decades ago to insure civil rights for all people of color. Our heighten awareness of the impact racism has on all aspects of our society must drive us to review how we conduct our lives, businesses, organizations and institutions with a commitment to create an equitable and just society. Our choices regarding those we entrust with the privilege of governing must reinforce our resolve to make change happen. Together we can thwart the tragedy of persistent racism and realize the dream of freedom.
At Hillsides, we pledge to increase our awareness of racism and its impact on the organization and establish a senior level work group to examine issues of equity, diversity and inclusion. This group will review our policies in order to assure an environment that provides opportunity and fairness for all clients and employees alike. This commitment will be incorporated into our new strategic plan to guide all aspects of the organization from governance to the direct care of those we serve. This initiative will develop reforms that will better equip us to serve our Black clients and support a diverse work force.
We pride ourselves in creating lasting change for all those we serve, it is our goal to use this historic moment to reinforce our capacity to fulfill this mission and be an instrument of change to bring about greater equity and justice.