Systemic racism has long been a destructive force in our communities and our nation. In the nonprofit sector, many organizations are dealing with the direct and indirect damage that racism and privilege continue to inflict. If not for the racism and inequity that our country propagated and perpetuated for centuries, some nonprofit organizations would never have been necessary.
We need to stop to consider how current systems in America treat Black and White people differently. We have seen the stark contrast in recent weeks as rubber bullets and tear gas were deployed against peaceful demonstrators carrying the simple message that Black Lives Matter, while no force was used against armed protestors storming government buildings to complain about measures meant to protect not just their own health, but the broader community's health. The day when “The Talk” refers only to the birds and the bees, rather than how to avoid being unjustly arrested or killed, cannot come soon enough.
Black Lives Matter. And Black Voices Matter. While this newsletter would normally be the place for us to share resources, trends, and learnings with you, the best way for our sector and our nation to learn and to make progress is first to listen. So, this month we are featuring the voices of Black Americans, their lived experiences, and their advice for breaking down systems that perpetuate negative stigma and inequity – including practices of nonprofits. We’re featuring a line or two from each piece below and hope it will inspire you to click through and read or listen to every word.
“The constant bombardment of all of these negative messages about who people of color are, how they’re supposed to be – they come at us so often that without realizing it, practically through osmosis, that information is getting stored in our unconscious mind. And the reality is…if we are on autopilot, the way we navigate is default status quo, and we walk through the world perpetuating inequities, treating other people in ways that reminds them that they’re an ‘Other,’ making decisions in institutions and organization about policies, about programs, about the culture of the organization and who fits that culture. In essence, we are part of the system that we keep railing against."
“Thank you for all the statements explaining how you want to be an ally to black people. Now, let’s be accountable to the rhetoric by using our government influence to advocate for public investments sought by those who face injustice and systemic racism every day. Let’s organize philanthropic colleagues to take action. In this moment, white colleagues need to name anti-black racism and put that in the center of all the actions and resources of their institutions on fighting that racism for as long as it takes.”
- Sharon Bush, Executive Director of the Grand Victoria Foundation, in “Racial Equity Needs to Be More Than Philanthropy’s Catchphrase”
“One of black parents’ most difficult balancing acts is protecting our children while empowering them to protest. It requires an incredible amount of maturity from our children, too.”
- Carina Ray, Associate Professor of African and African-American Studies at Brandeis University in “‘Could the Police Kill Me, Too?’ My Young Son Asked Me”
“Stop talking about colorblindness. It’s not a thing. Colorblindness is totally impossible in a nation whose land was taken from the indigenous inhabitants through an attempt at genocide and horrific colonization. The same nation that enslaved humans and exploited them in every way imaginable built a nation on their backs, hung them, hunted them, and for centuries kept them from their basic inalienable rights and still does.”
- Courtney Ariel in “For Our White Friends Desiring to be Allies”
“What masks do I wear? The veil of politeness when I am meeting with others who believe Detroit or more accurately, Black people are responsible for the COVID-19 epidemic in Michigan, or the mask of burden when my every word and action is being evaluated because of the color of my skin. It is suffocating and tiring to wear a mask, yet it has seemed essential to my survival. It has only been in the last few days of reflection that I realized my masks have forced me to hold my breath and slowly suffocate my soul’s very existence.”
- Donna Murray-Brown, President and CEO of Michigan Nonprofit Association, in a message to members
“I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honor the girls, the women of color who are murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand, so that these girls are never forgotten.”
- Naomi Wadler, activist, age 11, in her speech at the March for Our Lives
“Think about how many people who have nothing, the ‘Have Nots,’ say ‘You know what, I’m still going to play by the rules, even though I have nothing, because I still wish that the society to work and to exist.’ And then some members of that society, namely Black American people, watch time and time again how the contract that they have signed with society is not being honored by the society that forced them to sign it.”
- Trevor Noah, in George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper
“Why should we have to explain to our son, You can’t do everything you see your white friends doing? There is a difference, if you have not recognized it. When white kids have a rambunctious college party, it’s just kids being kids. However, when black kids do the same, it’s a crime. Society’s response is different, solely due to the color of their skin.”
- Lisa Leslie, Basketball Hall of Famer, in “Dear America”
“Nonprofits with missions like ‘Helping at-risk youth in high-crime neighborhoods to stay on track and avoid becoming negative statistics’ are admirable, self-congratulatory, and denigrating to the students all at once. Organizations could accurately describe themselves as ‘helping students who are striving for an education to overcome difficult environments and to achieve their dreams.’”
“Dealing with the racialized “threat” factor has shaped me as a man, husband, father, and nonprofit leader. Over my lifetime I’ve had to navigate the reality that our public institutions of power were never designed for the success of people who look like me. I learned over the years as a black man that I needed a unique skill set that embodied the ability to cope with subtle microaggressions, and the need to legitimize the relevance of my professionalism and expertise.”
- Mark Jackson, Executive Director of REAP Inc., in “Blackness in Oregon”
“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature."
- Sonya Renee Taylor, author and poet
“There’s obviously a certain opportunism here, an attempt to respond to the moment and win favorable coverage, with as little sacrifice as possible. (Paid holidays, while nice, are a grossly inadequate response to calls for justice and equality.) But if Americans are going to mark and celebrate Juneteenth, then they should do so with the knowledge and awareness of the agency of enslaved people.”
- Jamelle Bouie, New York Times Opinion columnist, in “Why Juneteenth Matters”
“Our dancing in the rain wasn’t a denial of all the storms that had moved in on black people that week. It was a dare. An indignant stance of confidence in the midst of this malignant monsoon called systemic racism. Our laughter was a way to say “you can’t steal our joy” to anyone who’d dare deny our humanity. “
- Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts, in “My daughter reminded me that black joy is a form of resistance”
“We must make a hard pivot from just talking about diversity but towards implementing just, practical strategies that dismantle inequities for our staffs and those we serve. It’s time we do the tough work. I urge you all to no longer be silent. We cannot continue to operate within the perimeters of our comfort zones.”
- Salima Thomas, Chief Education and Member Services Officer at North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, in “The Time is Now”
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