From the comfort of my life, I have been watching and respecting the racial equity movement for a few years. Events spotlighted in mainstream and social media as racially motivated, however, recently prompted me to deliberately explore my personal understanding and view of racism and systemic racism. I generally understood racism and my personal biases but needed to work to understand systemic racism and its implications. So I have been reading, listening, joining learning sessions and a peaceful demonstration, and brainstorming with family and friends. I chose to document my findings to help me understand them better. I decided to share them publicly in case my research and thought process could help you on your own journey to explore racism, systemic racism, and how we each can find a way to meaningfully address them. I welcome your feedback to help my thinking evolve and contributions be more effective.
In this writeup, I share why I am writing this; my personal development; how I see myself helping (through my volunteer work, individually, as a parent, and professionally); findings from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force that seem like meaningful, relevant ways for anyone to get involved, and other organizations that I observe doing good work; what leaders of organizations can do to support racial equity; the role of the media and the importance of critical thinking and considering multiple viewpoints; my perception of and desire to support leaders of color; my recognition of the importance of banking and wish to learn more; my expectation that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are important, and my plan to learn more; the police; and violence. I conclude with my takeaways. I warn you that it is 13 pages, but I hope you benefit from my research, thought process, and resources shared. As you read what I share, I ask you to assume positive intent.
The views expressed in this article are solely my own and do not represent the views of my employer or any organizations in which I serve as a volunteer.
Why I Am Writing This
I am struck by stories of my friends’ and colleagues’ experiences with racism, and those that I read, see and hear in the media. I am impacted by community health and wellness learnings gleaned through my volunteer work. And I benefit from community development, financial industry, and economic insights gained through my employers. I worry about hardship magnified in the community by our current public health and the resulting economic crisis. Like many people, I want to learn more and help our community, and our nation, address identified issues.
To figure out how, I have been reading, listening, joining learning sessions and a peaceful demonstration, and brainstorming with family and friends. Here I share my learnings and understanding. I welcome feedback to help my thinking evolve and my contributions be more effective. Please grant me the grace that Loria Yeadon, Greater Seattle YMCA president and CEO, offered during the African American YMCA CEO virtual town hall on Unlearning Systemic Racism: “Perfection and precision of our language are not the goals, but learning and progress are.”
Why write and share this? David Brown, African American YMCA CEOs chair, “spoke to me” when he shared the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Many people, including Global Grassroots founder, Gretchen Steidle, suggest the first step in having an impact is “personal transformation” for which one must be self-aware. Hopefully the vulnerability I show by sharing my thinking with you supports your engagement in your own personal journey. Because the more of us who work towards improvement, the better it will become.
In the YMCA town hall, Montgomery, Alabama, Mayor Steven Reed noted that it could be sensitive and taboo to speak about race in our country. He said if we “feel good about our discussion” then we aren’t challenging ourselves enough. But he encouraged us to talk about “unlearning systemic racism” to help tear down barriers as we work to achieve equality and equity. Glen Gunderson, CEO and president of the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities, inspired us to make this a humanitarian, not a political, issue. And Kevin Washington, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA, urged us on with his comment, “We all must be changemakers.”
To promote a common understanding, Mayor Reed defined systemic racism as “racism resulting from inherent bias and prejudice of policies and practices of social or political organizations or institutions;” and I add “racism inherent from systems and environments in place” to clarify my understanding. Professor Ella L. J. Bell Smith emphasized that systemic racism is about more than the police. Many Black, Indigenous and people of color have inferior housing, and lack access to healthy foods, active community environments, healthcare (including mental), childcare and transportation, and experience shorter life spans. Re-segregated, inferior education yields them riskier, lower-paying jobs (e.g., grocery stores, transit, and health care) that are now on the “front line” of the pandemic. And with their more-crowded housing conditions, they are more exposed. We see this in data: racial and ethnic minorities have higher rates of hospitalization or death from COVID-19; hospitalization rates of Black Americans and American Indians are 5x that of white persons, and that of Hispanic persons is 4x that of white persons. They also are at greater risk from COVID-19 due to widespread pre-existing health conditions.
Compared to white Americans, Blacks have higher rates of almost every chronic health condition including lung and kidney disease, which increase the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans were all more likely than white Americans to report poor health status. In addition, Black families are three times more likely to live in poverty compared to white families, and twice as likely to be food insecure, factors known to contribute to poor health.
And one in five low-wage workers lacks healthcare coverage. The issues I cite are systemic to people of color and people living in poverty. My public health colleagues have taught me that these issues perpetuate each other.
By not addressing these systemic issues, our society is allowing the legacy of systemic racism to continue and worsen. Historically, policies and practices of governments, housing authorities, education systems, and the financial system systemically discriminated against African Americans. Many people in these economically, socially, and politically distressed situations became trapped. In The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein writes, “We have created a caste system in this country, with African Americans, kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure [bold added].” (District lines or redistricting is an existing practice that can reinforce systemic discrimination, such as by keeping certain neighborhoods out of the better schools.) Leading on Opportunity describes The Impact of Segregation on Charlotte-Mecklenburg (near where I live), similar to how communities across the country (particularly in the South) – the following quote explains the segregation:
Segregation stands apart as a cross-cutting factor because it is foundational to everything else. Not only are we segregated by race and ethnicity, we are also segregated by wealth and poverty. Maps of our county consistently reflect a “crescent” of lower-opportunity neighborhoods dominated by people of color in contrast with a “wedge” of white, wealthier residents in south and north Mecklenburg.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg has a deep history of segregation and discrimination that has manifested in community and neighborhood development over the years, and patterns of isolation that have evolved. Recent research indicates that this racial and economic segregation has deepened the gap in opportunity, despite many advancements in becoming a more inclusive community. Segregation is particularly difficult as it is a barrier that we, as a part of larger American society, have little practice in confronting openly and intentionally. The longer we permit our current systems, policies, and
institutions to remain unchanged and implicit bias to play a role, the more lasting these trends will become—only exacerbating the divide in our community. The recent police shooting and subsequent protests focused our collective attention on the stark divide that exists. We may have inherited the obstacles to opportunity put in place over generations, but we have the power and responsibility to ensure this same inheritance is not passed on to our children and youth.
Of course, some people overcome these hardships and advance economically. But many people have not been able to rise above systemic issues. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force explained, “Rather than seeing inequality of opportunity as the product of systemic inequities, some people scrutinize and cast blame upon the communities most impacted by societal failures and the people who most need help.” Further, “the ethos of bootstrapping, or scaling the socioeconomic ladder through individual effort, hard work, and personal responsibility is, by and large, an idealized narrative.” Leading on Opportunity presents data showing that, “the American Dream is, for most, out of reach and highly correlated to where one is born and the environment in which one is raised” [bold added]. Therefore, we must address systemic issues in order to dismantle systemic racism.
Mayor Reed highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to eliminating racial disparities. Public health experts share that the confluence of issues needs to be addressed to enable people living in poverty to advance. Issues cited affecting many people of color and most people living in poverty include education, education funding, and college and career readiness; access to healthcare including mental, dental (because you can’t concentrate on work or studies if you have a debilitating toothache) and the COVID-19 vaccine (once we get one); affordable housing and homeownership; financial security; capital access for businesses; access to childcare and sick leave to support people getting (and keeping) good jobs; and access to public transportation. And issues specific to people of color include discrimination, exclusion, and bias; equity and equality; and these issues specifically in the criminal justice system.
Now that I understand them better, I see the problems are big and frustrating and feel overwhelming. What am I hearing, reading, and finding that I, and we, can do to help address systemic racism?
“We need to start with ourselves, a personal journey,” said Kevin Washington. Professor Bell Smith advised that we pursue our own personal development and “understand what my race means to me.” She suggested that what we see, learn and experience throughout our lives shapes how we are leaders. We need to understand what messages we got growing up that influenced our perception of ourselves, and other races: what messaging did we see that said that white was better than brown or Black (e.g., was I told to lock my doors when driving through a predominantly-Black neighborhood)? How did we learn? What do we think about others? What do we think success looks like? Who has success and why?
For my formative years, I personally think back to the schools I attended, jobs I had, places I lived, and people I met. Schools ranged from public schools in Fairfield County, Connecticut (CT), offering some of the highest-quality education in the country but minimal racial integration; to a public school in Long Beach, California (CA), with ethnic and racial diversity, but a clear learning gap; to a private school in Palos Verdes, CA, with ethnic diversity (though I don’t know about the socioeconomic diversity) and amazing educational opportunities. I think of my working experiences and friends I have made. Out of high school, I took an entry-level job as a bank teller in Long Beach, in an ethnically diverse office that included some people who had emigrated to the U.S. with their families. I was impressed by a single mother working to support her family on our $12,000 per year income (in 1988) and recognized her efforts to ensure her daughter had a good life. I was concerned for another mother who came to work with injuries from beatings from her husband and wondered if someone could stay in that situation. (If I learned of this nowadays, I would share resources with her to try to help her.)
Later as a college intern, I lived the “high life” of an ex-pat in Mexico City at a U.S. brokerage firm, meeting international business people and gaining valuable experience. When I returned to Mexico City after college to work at a Mexican brokerage house, I got to know Mexicans from different socioeconomic classes and traveled to get to know the culture and people. Moving to Wall Street in New York City (NYC), I did not perceive my office as diverse (centered around the high yield trading floor and with management white, often Jewish, males) but my closest friends there were (white, Asian, Asian American, Latin American, Israeli, Jewish – men and women).
I remember hearing that agents from the CT real estate office where I worked as a receptionist in 10th grade steered African Americans to neighborhoods other than ours. And I knew of a house in town where African American girls from NYC lived so they could attend our high school; I remember seeing them but never met the girls. I remember the Black boy in the Spanish class in the CA school to which I transferred in 11th grade hardly able to speak any Spanish during his presentation, and the Latina girls in the class were hardly able to speak English. (Looking back, I see the girls could have just moved into the country.) I didn’t think lesser of my classmates, but I did of the education they were provided. Unlike most others, I was able to transfer to a private school to complete high school and get the education that my parents and I wanted.
Soon after returning to the U.S. as a young adult, I attended a family gathering with relatives whom we previously didn’t know, at their local social club in New England. One new-found relative quietly disclosed to me, “We don’t allow Spanish people into our club.” I thought you’re confiding in the wrong person, lady. I felt flustered and didn’t speak up then to voice my disapproval, as I was trying to be polite to these newfound relatives whose upbringing was different from mine; today, I would. I recognize my privilege and am fortunate for the opportunities I have been provided. I also am grateful for the exposure to different neighborhoods, states, countries, cultures, education systems, and work experiences I have been given. I am thrilled to have retained friendships from most of these times. I think that people who have success are those who can see opportunity and take advantage of it, with a personal support network to help them make good decisions.
How do I see myself helping?
I think that my volunteer work with the Impact York County (SC) coalition is my greatest opportunity to impact my local community. The coalition formed out of the 2016 South Carolina Population Health Summit and comprises community members and organizations collaborating to support a culture of community health. I serve as a coalition member on behalf of Eat Smart Move More York County (the local coalition of Eat Smart Move More South Carolina), working to make the healthy choice the easy choice through healthy eating and active living by promoting policy, system, and environmental change. I also serve as a member of Impact York County on behalf of my employer, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond (Richmond Fed), which has a community development arm that works with community partners to identify and address economic challenges and opportunities in low- and moderate-income communities, consistent with its Congressional mandate to support maximum employment. Impact York County has the “Healthy People Healthy Carolinas” grant and our first target area is a lower-income, largely Black neighborhood, also designated as an opportunity zone. We are incorporating social determinants of health into our strategy.
On an individual level, I ask questions of elected officials and I vote. If I observe wrongdoing, such as people with power exploiting their power, what I perceive as a lack of diversity or unsafe pedestrian access to a school, or if I identify the opportunity to bring healthy foods into an environment (particularly a “food desert”), I speak up. I share my opinion in public forums. I seek alternative viewpoints; I listen respectfully; I try to hear. And my husband and I talk openly with our children, acknowledging the wrongs we see, talking through what we can do, and noting that we don’t always have clear answers but always must try our best. We try to set a good example, include our children in our civic and volunteer activities, and introduce them to new people so they are comfortable with folks from different backgrounds. We praise the good we see.
I also try to learn from and leverage my office’s community development arm. Last year, I contributed to their “Charlotte’s West End Convening for Opportunity” event at which the Richmond Fed convened community leaders and partners to discuss positive development opportunities in some of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. A few years ago, upon learning about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force’s findings (see the next section), I leveraged my business school alumni network to host an outreach event for Charlotte business leaders.
On a one-on-one level, I try to follow concepts I learned in a “diversity and inclusion” event I attended in 2017: When meeting someone new, start with the common ground of humanity, rather than focusing on perceived differences. If we only know “a single story” about a person, recognize that we naturally have an inherent bias. There are more angles to that person that we can’t understand until we get to know him/her better. That is, realize that we lack key knowledge about a person that could significantly change our opinion of him/her. Also, interactions benefit if we “assume positive intent,” rather than dismiss or judge the person whom we perceive as behaving badly.
The above are ways I have found that I personally use to promote equity and equality in my community, but I welcome other ideas too.
Findings from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force with tangible ways for organizations and individuals to focus our efforts
I appreciate the below tangible strategies for community organizations and members to address issues systemic to lower-income communities which can help combat systemic racism.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force offers 19 strategies in “Leading on Opportunity.” The task force convened diverse stakeholders including grassroots community leaders, activists, politicians, businesses, government, faith communities, and nonprofits willing to address regional economic mobility challenges. Their goal was to create new pathways of opportunity to give every child, youth, and family in their community “an equal chance to achieve social and economic success.” They determined strategies to impact intergenerational poverty and reduce barriers to economic opportunity by focusing on systemic and structural change. They found three interrelated determinants likely to have the most influence on a person’s opportunity trajectory: early care and education; college and career readiness; and child and family stability. They found two factors cut across the three determinants: impact of segregation and social capital (the relationships and networks people have that can connect them to opportunities).
We should help our communities address early care and education. The report notes that:
Education serves as an equalizer with the potential to nullify the deficits many children face due to socio-economic circumstance, providing a unique opportunity for long-term public benefit. Quality early care and education have resounding effects. They lay the groundwork for individuals to complete high school and postsecondary education, while decreasing the likelihood of the need for public assistance and chances of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Research shows that children enrolled in high quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, less likely to run into trouble with the law, and typically earn around $2,000 more per month as adults than those not enrolled.
The task force recommends three strategies to support early care and education:
- Make the necessary investments to ensure all children in Mecklenburg County from birth to age five have access to quality early childhood care and education.
- Strengthen the early care and education workforce to improve the quality and experiences of early care and education available to children ages birth to five.
- Support parents and other caregivers as a child’s first teacher in promoting positive early brain development, social and emotional health, and early literacy beginning at birth.
We should help our communities support college and career readiness, and the report shares seven strategies:
- Students need to be prepared for our rapidly-changing workforce needs. A rapidly-changing job market has opened other pathways to equip our students with the skills and education they will need to build and support thriving families.
- Broaden the range of and access to high-quality college and career pathways offered by our K-12 and postsecondary institutions, ensuring all students have access to and support for the full range of opportunities.
- Equip all students and their parents with the information and guidance they need to understand and navigate multiple college and career pathways, preparation, and processes.
- Galvanize community support to develop and implement a multi-faceted plan to increase paid work-based learning opportunities for students.
- Expand and strengthen support for first-generation and other low-socioeconomic students who need help transitioning to and completing postsecondary education.
- Create more on-ramps to education, training, and employment for our disconnected youth and young adults.
- Elevate and actively promote the critical importance of acquiring a postsecondary degree and/or industry certification for our young people to successfully compete in our rapidly changing, technologically advanced labor market.
Leading on Opportunity explains that, “common sense suggests and research confirms that children and youth do best in stable households where they know what to expect and where they feel safe and secure.” They explain that:
All parents juggle the competing demands of raising a family, but caregivers who are experiencing poverty or near poverty circumstances are more challenged to navigate these demands and provide stable environments and consistent support for their children. On a daily basis, they may have difficult choices: pay for food or for child care; take a sick child to the doctor or risk losing their job; or attend a parent/teacher meeting or find a new place to sleep that night. Chronic, cumulative, and potentially toxic stress can be overwhelming for the entire family and have lasting impacts on the lives and outcomes of children.
And we can help our communities address child and family stability, with nine suggested strategies:
- Encourage the formation and maintenance of committed two-parent families.
- Ensure young women and men have the necessary information about and sources for reproductive health care so they can plan for pregnancy when they are ready to raise a child.
- Improve birth outcomes of all children and their mothers.
- Help more families get on and stay on a path to living-wage income and asset building.
- Take dramatic steps to address our affordable housing crisis, which will stabilize working families, prevent family homelessness, and minimize the disruption of a large number of children who move from school to school due to housing affordability issues.
- Create a more connected community to ensure all families have ready access to employment, shopping, service areas, schools, parks, and other daily destinations.
- Develop efforts focused on addressing mental health issues and/or reducing the mental health impacts of living in low-opportunity environments.
- Invest in strategies that support comprehensive criminal justice reform, and create a community where families are not destabilized due to interactions with the criminal justice system.
- Re-envision a human services system in which the needs of families are addressed holistically and services and support are coordinated to achieve the best possible outcomes.
What can leaders of organizations do?
Mr. Washington highlighted the need for leaders to follow our personal journeys in support of racial equity with an examination of our organizations. It is positive that many organizations have issued public statements in support of racial equality and equity. Now leaders must ensure that it is not just rhetoric but is applied.
For example, I value policies, systems, and environments that support a person’s ability to make healthy choices. Thus I give less credence to statements from companies that target junk food marketing to minority populations. Food system expert and advocate, Marion Nestle, shares, “Minority kids identify soda brands with sports figures, and minority community groups find it hard to oppose soda company marketing when the companies have been so generous.” In response to the Pepsi CEO message on racial equality, “The great irony of Ramon Laguarta’s promises to counter PepsiCo’s conscious or unconscious racist practices in the company, its business, and communities is that none of them addresses targeted marketing,” said Nestle. “The best thing Pepsi could do to improve the health of its customers would be to stop advertising and marketing to children and teenagers, especially those of color,” Nestle added.
Leaders must be methodical and strategic to support racial equity within our organizations over the long term. Professor Bell Smith advised regular organizational assessments because past work may have been successful, but situations and dynamics change and new leaders have new agendas. It is helpful to understand the origins of racism from a macro level (systemic racism) and micro-level (microaggressions). A leader might form an “equity advisory group” that engages people of color to inform his/her actions and thinking. Leaders can facilitate conversations, listen, and dig deeper to discuss root causes. Working through partnerships or hiring outsiders to perform the assessment may yield a greater impact.
Leaders should actively support the development and inclusion of people of color. Offer apprenticeship programs. Ensure that Black, Brown and Indigenous employees are included in training, job rotations, and executive leadership programs. Look at our recruiting, and if our board, management, and employees reflect the communities we are serving. Follow the example of “Chief executives at 27 of the biggest companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Amazon.com Inc., and Google owner Alphabet Inc. [which] have committed to hiring 100,000 low-income and Black, Latino and Asian New Yorkers by 2030 — an effort that comes during a monthslong wave of protests about racial inequality.”
I have had different levels of discussions about these topics in the coalitions I help lead, but I will continue to evaluate and determine how to move forward in support of racial equity.
What is the media’s role?
Media is both a positive and negative force. I welcome the awareness it delivers and I appreciate the work of journalists and reporters. But media often presents extreme views that can alienate those of us who seek to understand different perspectives. I recognize that news stations are competing with social media for eyeballs so have to present eye-catching headlines and stories. And that journalists and reporters are human with their own biases. But touting one side of the story leads some audiences to conclude that it is “fake news” (a polarizing response when called out using those words, which I think would be better classified as “half news”) and drives open-minded people away. That said, I worry about local and mainstream news media going out of business. We need media professionals to research issues and stories and provide objective, credible, and relevant information.
Social media also is often polarizing. People expressing different viewpoints, even in ways that I perceive as thoughtful, respectful and reasonable, get attacked. This negativity stifles thoughtful people and limits our freedom of expression. Or to protect ourselves, we “friend” only like-minded people, which limits our access to alternate viewpoints that could better inform our thinking.
How can our society recognize these problems with the media and get reporting on the right track? Parents and educators can teach our children critical thinking and highlight multiple viewpoints. Media professionals can be more balanced – consider that you are losing viewership, and hurting our society, with shocking headlines and one-sided stories.
How do I see, or want to see, leaders of color helping?
I am interested in identifying strong voices at the national leadership level representing and leading the Black community and our country at this time when our nation is focused on systemic racism. Certainly, many people are doing great work across our nation in the civil rights arena to help address structural inequities. But I do not recognize single, powerful individuals whose messages are prominently covered in the media and who could be a unifying voice during this time of national strife.
I recognize and appreciate the many regional and local leaders of color. For example, I recognize Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s President Raphael Bostic call to policymakers to “step up,” and his speeches in support of success stories that local officials might be able to replicate. And I welcome anyone with a platform to use it, including musicians, actors, and athletes. Because I want to hear and support their voices, and I believe our nation needs them.
I am impressed by the current multitude of young leaders. They give me confidence that our society will move in the right direction as they gain experience and power. “Listen to young leaders and let them lead, rather than telling them what to do,” advised Senator Harris. Young leaders (of all ethnicities), when you succeed, stay honest. If you are elected mayor, don’t take bribes. If you are elected congressman, don’t misuse campaign funds. If you become police chief, tell the truth and act with integrity. It is hard to do the right thing, but society needs you and good people want to support you.
I want more to learn about the role of banking
Financial institutions support personal savings. They also provide capital to businesses, including small businesses, and minority-owned microenterprises — important to job creation, economic development, and healthy communities and therefore a key component to breaking down structural racism. When no banks operate in unprofitable communities, local families and businesses are more likely to be exploited by alternative financial service providers such as payday lenders.
I understand the distrust that many African Americans feel for banks given historical bad experiences such as pre-deposit-insurance bankruptcies. This has put them at a disadvantage, evident during the COVID-19 crisis when unbanked microenterprises, including minority-owned ones, could not take advantage of government assistance (e.g., Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans). One might expect them to trust Black-owned banks better. But these are disappearing, as author Tim Todd notes the:
…disproportionate reduction in the number of African American Community Banks. Since 2001, the number of African American banks has declined by more than half – a trend that is not reflective of what we have seen in other categories of minority depository institutions. Meanwhile, one out of every five African American households in the United States is unbanked – the highest rate among any race or ethnic designation reported by the FDIC.
I liked the idea of ensuring more commercial bank loan officers of color to help extend relationships and knowledge into minority communities to improve access to capital, technical support, and banking relationships (that II heard mentioned during a Federal Reserve System “Connecting Communities” program). The program also noted the importance of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), specialized financial institutions operating in markets underserved by traditional financial institutions, in providing capital and advisory support.
I began my career in the financial industry as a teller in a family-owned community bank in Long Beach, CA. As I look to the future, I am interested in learning more about and contributing to wealth generation, savings, and financial security in lower-income communities and communities of color.
I plan to learn more about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
I expect that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) can play a key role in serving Black communities and reducing systemic racism by providing accessible, empowering education leading to economic and social opportunities. Therefore I assume it is important that they receive adequate funding and community support.
Locally, I have attended a couple of events at the Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC; this HBCU has post-civil war roots and is recognized as an anchor in its Historic West End community. I am aware of the historically Black, Christian Clinton College in Rock Hill, SC, but have not yet interacted with the school.
I want to better understand the roles of HBCUs in our nation’s history and now. I look forward to learning about this of the Richmond Fed “Investing in Rural America” conference (Oct. 8) during Rural America Week at the “Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the Rural South” segment (Oct. 5).
What about the Police?
In my office and community, I work and interact with many police officers whom I respect. I value their work to protect and improve our community. I see them using their positions to “do good.”
In the media, I see different experiences. I see unnecessary use of force and a clear abuse of power in such acts as keeping a knee on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. I see flaws in the criminal justice system and society in the killing of Breonna Taylor. I infer that judge-issued “no-knock arrest warrants” are inappropriate since Louisville subsequently banned them. The Louisville Metro Police officer was fired for not following department policies and procedures; if the policies/procedures were sound, could he and his colleagues have received better training and support before the incident that would have changed their approach to that situation? One considers that Ms. Taylor, Kenneth Walker (reported to be her boyfriend who shot the policeman), and Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend (reported to be the drug dealer) could have been more responsible and not gotten into this situation (i.e., living in a home to which it was suspected that drugs were being delivered, perhaps to them, perhaps to deal). But hardship accompanies systemic racism and perhaps theirs was a community and environment with limited opportunities for economic and social success. If one presumes that Ms. Taylor, Mr. Walker, and Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend were doing the best they could, how could this situation have been avoided? This may have been a case in which society needed to address the social determinants of health, giving Ms. Taylor, Mr. Walker, Ms. Taylor’s ex-boyfriend, and their friends, family and community better opportunities to succeed – and not be “left behind” given the zip code in which they were raised (I think this is the argument of the people championing the unfortunately-named, “defund the police”). We can also consider whether their state’s gun laws and training requirements were appropriate, to ensure that Mr. Walker should have owned, and did receive sufficient training to use, a gun. Regarding another publicized tragedy, I can’t understand why no arrests (or headlines) were made in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery for months. I can’t understand why the men, including one former officer, chased him down rather than leaving it to the police if they believed Mr. Arbery had committed a crime. This clearly stings to me of racism.
I hear my friends and colleagues describe being targeted by law enforcement because they are Black. And they carry an extra burden of worry for their sons. How awful that my friend has to warn her son that when he is hanging around with his white friends, if a kid does something wrong, he would be the one the police questioned. I, too, instruct my kids how to behave, but I can do it so they do not have a fear of the police (i.e., one less strain on their mental health). I think that positive relationships with and trust of the police are critical to a community, yet cannot happen with racism.
There needs to be appropriate policies, procedures, training, and checks and balances of people in power, including law enforcement, to ensure fair and equitable treatment of others and prevent the abuse of power. Addressing the social determinants of health and enhancing economic mobility could reduce the burden on communities of color and the criminal justice system.
I know we have to stop the violence, but I don’t see a fast solution
How can violence in Black communities across the U.S. be reduced? I understand from the media that shootings are in urban areas. From my local Associated Press newspaper today, “Funeral home shooting blamed on Chicago gangs – The eruption of gunfire outside a funeral home on Chicago’s South Side that left 15 people wounded was part of an ongoing conflict involving the gang of a young man being mourned and a rival gang…More Gun violence struck early Wednesday. In Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, a 3-year old girl was hospitalized after being shot in the head while riding in a vehicle with her parents.” My thinking is that the people involved need opportunity, economic mobility and hope and I go back to the “Leading in Opportunity” strategies to address regional economic mobility challenges.
I do not support violent protests, noting that they hurt those involved and alienate folks who otherwise might be supportive of the cause. That said, I appreciated Professor Bell Smith’s perspective that, during the civil rights era, when rioters showed their anger and pain about inferior schools, poor living conditions and horrible working conditions, they were saying, “tear down where I am because it needed to be rebuilt.”
Here are my takeaways…
Racism and systemic racism are humanitarian issues; this is not political.
We all understand racism – what one feels or how one acts on an individual level, conveyed through microaggressions (e.g., against a Black birdwatcher). Systemic racism is less understood – I have learned it is the inherent bias and prejudice from policies, practices, systems, and environments (e.g., lack of a transportation system in a Black neighborhood preventing Black residents from getting to higher-paying jobs; no healthcare coverage in jobs commonly held by Latinos preventing them from getting the medical care they need in order to stay healthy enough to keep working; lack of internet access or educational resources on a Native American reservation that hinders future job opportunities; not finding ways to enable all citizens to vote including people who cannot get off work during voting hours, often people of color; too-expensive childcare options preventing people, often of color, from holding steady jobs). These issues that are systemic to people of color also plague people living in poverty. Therefore it is my hope that by addressing the social determinants of health and employing such strategies as those presented by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force (early care and education; college and career readiness; child and family stability) as it seeks to address the lack of economic mobility in certain zip codes, or those being developed by Impact York County as we work to improve community health, that we also can address significant components of systemic racism. There is a role for each community member and leader to help make these improvements.
People need to take individual responsibility for their actions, work hard, and act with integrity to the best of their ability. But certain people and communities are disadvantaged. It is hard to succeed if they cannot see an opportunity to take advantage of, or with no personal support network to help them make good decisions (e.g., if their school guidance counselor is directing them to low-paying jobs when all but their skin color is leading them to higher education).
It is too easy for people to say that the main problem is the police force. Of course, there need to be appropriate policies, procedures, training, and checks and balances of people in power, including law enforcement, to ensure fair and equitable treatment of others and prevent the abuse of power. The situation is more complicated than “the police are broken.” Let’s work on getting disadvantaged people, often people of color and people living in poverty, out of these situations in the first place. Reduce the burden both on communities of color and the criminal justice system.
An individual’s first step is self-awareness – understand what we believe and why. This will give us a grounded perspective before we are influenced by extreme viewpoints. Understanding ourselves, we should also listen to other people and respectfully hear and consider their viewpoints. Recognize that media and social media often present biased perspectives – don’t berate someone who expresses opinions different from our own. Educate our children about bias and speak up to demand balance.
If we see something, such as a biased policy or someone making a racist comment, we need to say something. Use whatever platform we have. Organizational leaders should ensure sound policies, practices, and procedures, both internally and in whatever reach our organizations have in the community. Family members need to educate our children. Elected officials need to start acting in the best interest of society and not to influence votes (i.e., not to get votes nor to hurt their political opponents). I look forward to leaders of color at the national level stepping up as representing and leading the communities of color and our country at this time when our nation is focused on racism and systemic racism; I hope that media gives them the attention they deserve and reports in a balanced fashion, because the people of color, and our society, needs this leadership. I hope that young leaders keep speaking up, voting, and running for office, and they act with integrity even after they gain power. And I hope to see members of mainstream media be more balanced, considering that they are losing viewership, and hurting our society, by presenting one-sided stories.
Governments and community members, look at public policies. We need to ensure a good education for all kids across America, in the cities and in rural areas, to prepare for future job opportunities. Ensure that everyone who wants to vote, can. Encourage people to vote and run for office.
I embrace different perspectives – people have different experiences than mine and when they share those with me, I can come to more informed, better decisions. To solve racism, systemic racism, and economic mobility challenges, we all need to listen to other people’s views, then work to address the issues. I want to help bring people together so we can work towards a better community, nation, and world. We can only progress if get out of our current cycle of destruction, hatred, blame, and lack of communication.
The views I express in this document are not perfect, but I am trying to advance my thinking and do some good. I vulnerably share my current thinking with you to help promote your own personal journey. I cannot stay silent when I see so many in society suffering; we each need to evaluate our thinking and help work towards a more equitable society. The more of us who work towards improvement, the better it will become. I have found my way to help by joining local coalitions, using my voice, and including and educating my children. I have more work to do, and more work that I want to do. I welcome your recommendations, and thoughts on my views. And I am interested to hear what you are doing (because you can inspire me and others).
Readings Recommended to Me
- Kira Hudson Banks and Richard Harvey. “Is Your Company Actually Fighting Racism, or Just Talking About It?,” Harvard Business Review online, June 11, 2020.
- Dwayne Betts. A Question of Freedom, A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison.
- Stephanie Creary. “How to Begin Talking About Race in the Workplace,” Knowledge @ Wharton, June 15, 2020.
- Robin DiAngelo. White Fragility.
- Sean Kelly, PhD and Christie Smith, PhD. What if the road to inclusion were really an intersection, Deloitte Insights, 12/12/2014
- Ibram X. Kendi. How to Be an Antiracist.
- A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. In the Matter of Color.
- Pastor Daniel Hill. White Lies and White Awake.
- Ashley Montagu. The World’s Greatest Myth, The Fallacy of Race.
- Nina Mjagkij. White in the Darkness, African Americans and the YMCA.
- Daniel Hill. White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White.
- Jonathan M. Metzl. Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland.
- Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington. “U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism,” Harvard Business Review online, June 1, 2020.
- Beverly Tatum. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.
- The topic of Bacon’s Rebellion
 Professor Ella L. J. Bell Smith of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, “Race, Equity and Conspirators in the Workplace,” 07/02/2020.
 I choose to capitalize Black when referring to people after reading the 07/05/2020 New York Times editorial rationale that Black refers to a culture and ethnicity, whereas brown, people of color and white can refer to people of different cultures and ethnicity so are not capitalized.
 Source: CDC “COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups,” data updated June 25; downloaded July 14
 Pnhp.org/KitchenTable, created May 2020
 KFF, “Double Jeopardy: Low Wage Workers at Risk for Health and Financial Implications of COVID-19,” 2018 data, sourced from website 07/14/2020
 We focus on policy, system and environments because those changes are sustainable. Examples include adding to a city’s comprehensive plan (policy) the addition of parks (physical environment) or support for farmers markets (food system); and adding bike lanes or sidewalks (transportation system).
 An opportunity zone is a federally-designated, state-chosen economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible or preferential tax treatment, certified by the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury via the delegation of authority to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). See IRS Opportunity Zones Frequently Asked Questions.
 Social determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, work, learn, play, pray, and age that affect health, functioning, and quality-of-life risk and outcomes.
 A food desert is an area with limited access to nutritious and affordable food.
 I published a racial/social equity personal analysis at that time too.
 In my region, I find organizations doing good work and welcoming volunteers and collaborators in these areas include Communities in Schools – Charlotte; United Way of Central Carolinas; United Way of York County; and Impact York County, Early Learning Partnership of York County, York County First Steps and Boys and Girls Club of York County.
 “Programs” often deal with symptoms of problematic, complex systems and structures, so strategies can have a greater impact by focusing on underlying “policies, practices and mindsets” contributing to negative outcomes for children and families.
 Source: Food Politics by Marion Nestle, “Weekend reading: marketing of sugary drinks to minorities,” 06/26/2020 and quoted in CNN, “Billions spent on ads encouraging minority youth to drink sugar-laden beverages despite health consequences,” 06/23/2020.
 Li, Shan, Wall Street Journal, “Big Firms Commit To Hiring Minorities In Need,” 08/12/2020.
 Bloomberg News, “Fed’s First Black President Calls on Policymakers to Step Up,” Steve Matthews, 06/18/2020.
 Using an awards show or sports game to share one’s values may detract from our ability to enjoy the event, but it is the right of those involved in producing or sponsoring the event and I can always choose not to watch.
 Reference: Yahoo.com, “Charlotte mayor resigns; accused of taking bribes,” Mitch Weiss and Tom Foreman, Jr., 03/26/2014.
 Reference: NPR.org, “Jesse Jackson Jr. ‘Manned Up’ on Misuse of Campaign Funds,” David Greene, 08/15/2013.
 Reference: msn.com, “Watchdog: Former Chicago police chief drank ‘several large servings of rum,’ sat in car for 2 hours at Chicago intersection,” John Byrne and Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune, 07/16/2020.
 Todd, Tim, Let Us Put Our Money Together, the Founding of America’s First Black Banks.
 Federal Reserve System, Connecting Communities, The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities and Small Businesses, 07/14/2020.
 Funeral home shooting blamed on Chicago gangs, Rock Hill Herald, July 23, 2020.