This morning I sat down to write – to begin to get at least some of the thoughts racing through my head on paper. It’s my attempt to find my way when nothing makes sense. I’ve spent my entire career working on social justice issues. I’ve had the privilege of working with talented and committed people on the front lines fighting for justice. I’ve been a willing student and they have taught me well. But I haven’t lived their lives and stood in their shoes. And so I can’t touch that part of them that hurts so deeply. I can, however, empathize and be inspired to do more – to do it differently.
We all need to listen, observe and learn from those who are on the receiving end of injustice. They rise up day after day, generation after generation to claim their power and dignity. And so I share some of these unfiltered and only lightly edited thoughts with you. I welcome your thoughts. It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Yesterday afternoon I reached out to trusted friends, clients and colleagues who are African American. These ended up being some of the most honest conversations we’ve ever had about race. I felt honored and challenged and so grateful for their frankness. When we speak about social justice, we so often do so from our limited perspectives. And that’s OK, because our intent is one of honor. We honestly care. However, in our sector – the social sector – this is all too often not the truest voice of the people we serve. Their voices are often filtered through our lenses. With the best of intentions and a deep belief in our missions we seek the softer side of the truth, trying to ensure we engage our donors – not enrage them. And that’s where we fail. When human dignity and safety is limited or threatened, we should be outraged. Martin Luther King once said that we’re more concerned about “order” vs. “justice”. But it is important we understand there is no order without justice. Justice must come first.
When I called and asked my friend if she was OK, she said, “I am not OK. I am not safe. I am Black.” And that said it all. So I listened and learned.
We cannot sit back and say we care or speak to injustice unless we are willing to carry the mantle of justice. It’s not up to our fellow human beings to carry it by themselves. We either do it together or get out of the way. Platitudes and speaking of justice from a distance is not useful. If we wish to claim love, then we can’t simply shake our heads and say how sad everything is. We need to get into the mix of things and fight for what is right.
Moving forward I challenge us all to take a hard look at ourselves. If we wish to make the world a better place, we MUST face our biases, which means we MUST acknowledge our fears. We MUST learn to listen. We MUST lead with empathy. And we MUST speak up and out to those who deny our humanity. No matter our race, gender, physical or mental ability…we are all beautifully human. It is our unique imperfections that make us perfect.
I wish you peace and love.