“These are the times that try men’s souls.” This was the quote that first came to mind when I sat down to prepare this statement. In December, 1776, Thomas Paine was talking about the American Revolution and need for the colonies to liberate themselves from England. Today it resonates with me for another reason – will we finally have the courage to liberate ourselves from the structural and systemic inequities that result from racism in our country?
The systemic racism and bigotry and bias we see at the individual level in our criminal justice system is not new or unique. It is pervasive in our society: in our public health and health-care systems – note the disparate impact of COVID-19 in communities of color; in our economic system as people of color once again bear a disproportionate share of financial pain in this current economic crisis; in our educational, housing, transportation and environmental systems as people of color have reduced access and limited resources to cope. It makes the work our members do across Florida harder than it needs to be and negatively impacts the lives of millions.
We stand with those protesting the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other African Americans in our country. While we decry violence and property destruction, we emphatically support the right to peaceful protest and human rights everywhere.
We are at a pivotal moment – will we have the courage to address systemic racism in our country? Perhaps we can take a small, baby step together. If you see something wrong, SAY SOMETHING. It’s the least we can do as human beings to call out the policies and practices that help perpetuate inequity, injustice and racism in our society. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I prefer to believe that our lives are just beginning, all of us, together.
– Terry Chelikowsky, FLACDC Executive Director
… and from NACEDA –
Subject: Broken hearts, bold resolve
Dear NACEDA family,
The pain caused by systematic racism and years of disinvestment in communities of color is real. I feel the outrage caused by murder and state-sanctioned oppression.
The hearts of the NACEDA network go out to the family of George Floyd, the South Minneapolis community, and people and places in this country suffering from disinvestment and abandonment. Our spirits are with those in our communities who respond to that subjugation with advocacy, protest, hope, and renewal.
Like you, I am frustrated and angry. I have felt deep sadness and touched despair. Recent events have done far more than just reveal existing inequalities, as stark as those are. Those inequalities have been historically compounded in just a few short weeks by sickness, oppression, loss of life and livelihood, and vivid acts of hate by those sworn to protect.
The direly urgent challenges of inequality and oppression in black and brown communities are known to those who work to advance community prosperity. Even so, many of us can’t ignore a sharper edge to the urgency of our mission as we feel compelled by a pulsating passion of the moment to influence the future of our communities and our nation.
From governors and politicians, to entertainers and athletes, to healthcare providers and corporations, to my own family members and long-lost social media connections, I have noticed calls for equality and community investment substantially grow in number and intensity.
In my selfish anger, I have wanted to raise exasperated hands and sarcastically welcome them to the realities you and I see every day. I have wanted to ask where they were before George Floyd. Or maybe simply post an eye-rolling #Itoldyouso. But that wouldn’t be fair, nor would it recognize our shared humanity.
I had a choice to make. Sure, I could fan the damp musk of cynicism and feed my own arrogance. Or, I could resolve myself to the heart of community development — to listen, support, and when necessary, speak on behalf of those who cannot speak, and most importantly stand with those standing for what is right and just.
We all play leadership roles across our various walks of life. You and I have been gifted the passion for community, and tools to help those working door to door, block by block in their efforts to strengthen it. Rather than dampen or ignore an ember newly formed in fiery protest, our calling is to breathe life into new believers demanding racial equality and community opportunity. This moment calls on us to advance hope in a struggle likely to last beyond your days and mine, to stoke those embers into a passion that comforts, heals, and builds community anew for generations to come.
Your leadership has never been more important. We at NACEDA will stand with you every step of the way.