After the murders of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in Cleveland, Ohio, followed by Rekia Boyd in Illinois, then John Crawford III, in Beavercreek, Ohio, and in quick succession Mike Brown in Missouri, and Michelle Cusseaux, I was profoundly affected. As I along with millions of other Americans watched live footage from Ferguson, we saw the prone and lifeless body of 18-year-old Mike Brown under a sheet, shot and killed as blood and other body fluids were seen slowly streaming out of his body while grief-stricken family members stood by.
Now the recent killings of Atatianna Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, often and without warning, a daily perusal of social media is littered with graphic video and still images of Black men, women and children being hunted and killed doing mundane activities from babysitting to jogging and even while sleeping. It Is triggering and traumatizing to see people that look like you being murdered every other day. I have decided NOT to view the brutal and senseless killings of people that look me on film every other day for my mental health and well-being. In Ohio, we have legislation at the state and city level making racism a public health crisis. I believe this and other legislation is necessary to allow for policies and support that center Black lives.
The way non-Black people can help is first, to listen. As Dave Chappelle recently quipped, “…the streets are talking…” and we would all do well to listen. Non-Black people need to center Black people and voices to speak on issues of racism that are ruining the pursuit of a happy, healthy life free of racial stress and violence for so many fellow Americans. Specifically, Black voices need to be amplified. Their rage, frustration, grief and exhaustion are the direct result of racial violence played out across the spectrum of institutions, policies and systems that reinforce white supremacy and anti-Blackness in large and small ways.
- Listen. Black People are demanding the full rights of citizenship promised them in the constitution. Let Black People drive and lead conversations about their individual and collective liberation from systems of oppression. This unique and frighteningly awful set of experiences Black people suffer at the hands of white supremacy and racial violence give them a unique perspective on the destructive ways systems have conspired against them for generations. Use your network to amplify and center thoughts and solutions of those most impacted by the problems. Understand the power dynamics of class when inviting or convening people and check your ego at the door. We are all learning and growing.
- Do your homework. The City of Columbus and the State of Ohio have both proposed legislation to declare racism a public health crisis. Start there and find out why. The racial wealth gap in the United States is huge and getting wider. Read about red lining and housing segregation. Where is your philanthropy focused? Look at topics, data and systems that are inequitably affecting Black People in those focus areas. What is White Supremacy, Anti-Blackness and Intersectionality? Read about it from Black Women authors and educators.
- Talk to each other about race. Black people are talking about race constantly. And we are not okay. After viewing images of yet another person who looks like us being murdered on film it is difficult to jump on a Zoom call and behave as if everything is okay. Racism is exhausting and it is quite literally a matter of life or death for Black People. We need non-Black People to talk to each other about race and racism, about White Supremacy and anti-Blackness. We need you to see race and to talk about racism with your peers.
- Do the work personally and professionally. The path to racial equity is both personal and institutional. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to undue oppressive systems. Non-Black people have to take responsibility for their contributions to maintaining a racist status quo that is killing their countrymen and women on a daily basis and relegating others to inferior housing, poverty wages, a mediocre education, lower life expectancy and stress-induced health problems from high infant mortality rates to worse COVID-19 health outcomes and premature death.
“Doing the work” can start right now, where you are. Make sure staff and those in leadership and on the board reflect the communities you serve, hire Black People from the neighborhood and pay Black Women their worth. Affect the communities where you live, work and play by challenging anti-Blackness and racism in your neighborhood, place of worship and local school system. More than a statement, it is your actions and results that tell the true story of your commitment to racial equity and justice.
Philanthropy Ohio Trustee & Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for CEAI, Inc., a nonprofit community development corporation based in Cincinnati