I can’t NOT speak, but I hesitate to find the right words as anything I say threatens to highlight my white privilege. I feel such deep pain for my black and brown sisters and brothers, our community and our country, and I feel some very real shame at how relatively pain-free my life has been. I was blessed to be a former long-time resident of Rock Island, a city rich in diversity of cultures, languages, skin colors and life experiences. I was raised there, chose it as the place I wanted to raise my children and also as my community of choice where I wanted to spend my “empty nest” years. My husband and I recently moved to Iowa to be closer to family and jobs, but we loved our condo there, loved walking our dog in it’s neighborhoods, worshiping there and visiting with neighbors. Sometimes I forgot to lock my doors. Less than a mile and a half away, though, is another Rock Island. It’s the Rock Island where Myiah, my 10-year-old mentee, lives in poverty with her 11 brothers and sisters. It’s the Rock Island where, until the pandemic, I volunteered every week at an elementary school that serves students who are all considered “at-risk”. It’s the Rock Island where little girls and boys are kept inside after a certain time because gang activity and drive-by shootings are real.
Here’s the thing: I did absolutely nothing to merit that my Rock Island is a different Rock Island than the one Myiah contends with every day of her life. It was an absolute accident of birth that I was born to my family and Myiah was born into her family. In no way am I more deserving than that precious little girl and all the others that populate my former hometown and all the other low-income minority neighborhoods throughout the country. I just happen to possess power that Myiah will never have because of the color of my skin. With this power comes great responsibility to act and shine a light on the disparity that takes place around us every day.
I will never know what it’s like to be followed home to my nice neighborhood because I look “suspicious”. I never had to have a conversation with my children about how to conduct themselves if they are stopped by the police. I have never been questioned by a maître d at an exclusive restaurant or a country club as to why I was there. It’s real, though. It’s all around us in this country. And it’s time for all of us blessed with undeserved power…those with white skin…to take a stand and to become allies. I am tired of the endless conversations that go nowhere, the diversity and inclusion trainings that don’t result in real change, the horrific acts of racial violence to which some of us have become desensitized. Please search your heart and make a declaration today to work for real, tangible change. For all of us, that means exercising our right to vote for leaders who are committed to racial equality and justice system reform. Please consider one-on-one mentoring of a black or brown child. Raise your hand to read once a month at an “at-risk” school. Join me in supporting real change in our criminal justice system with the #cut50 project at the non-profit, The Dream Corps.
You can find them at https://www.thedreamcorps.org. I’m also donating to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund at https://naacpldf.org. If you are present in a group and are party to a racist joke or a racial slur, speak up! Your sisters and brothers are depending on you. Please, please commit to this important work today. It is our privilege and our responsibility.