Rapson: Reflecting on the Murder of George Floyd and the Continued Pursuit of Full Racial Justice

Philanthropy, in all its forms, questions and seven more lessons from the past year

It’s been a year now since former policeman Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd. During that year, the murder precipitated a full spectrum of reactions and emotions. This sparked outbursts of anger, outrage and protest. He stepped up energies to build a racial justice movement equipped to move from protest to lasting change. He stepped up efforts to deconstruct traditional policing practices in favor of more community-based problem solving. This led to a collective catharsis as the nation watched the Chauvin trial and passed its verdict. He energized efforts to dismantle the underlying drivers of injustice and inequity, the racial wealth gap, the lack of economic opportunity. And much more.

At Kresge’s weekly staff meeting on Monday, we observed 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence in memory of Mr. Floyd. It was an opportunity to reflect on how his last breaths affected our own lives – its impact on our respective communities, its influence on a racial justice organization and its effects on us as individuals. I just wanted to share a word about how it affected me.

First, it surfaces in me an extremely painful and incessant sadness, frustration and anger.

Mr. Floyd’s death has removed the veil of the countless senseless, brutal and inhumane acts of violence inflicted with terrifying frequency by law enforcement on our citizens of color. This is anything but news for people of color, who have suffered and endured for centuries every conceivable form of white knees on black and brown necks. But for the majority society, and for people like me, it was a longtime news flash – a jarring realization, correcting the reality and shattering the myths of the prevalence of abuses by public authorities responsible for the ‘law application.

Second, I realized that without fair and humane police services, it will be extremely difficult to create the sense of security and justice necessary for cities across the country to move towards broader structures of equity and justice. ‘opportunities.

George Floyd’s murder created a lasting cumulative effect, uplifting and highlighting all past and subsequent acts of police violence against people of color. This is not an area of ​​public policy that Kresge directly targets. But Floyd’s murder is nonetheless a powerful reminder that all the systems that shape public life in American cities are intertwined and cannot, ultimately – or at the start of the day – be isolated from each other.

Third, it reinforced my belief that our organization’s response to racial justice grantmaking was the right calibration. between the short-term imperative of building the capacity of organizations working on the ground to advance equity and opportunity and our long-term commitment to dismantle the systems that enable, reinforce and perpetuate injustice, inequality and differential opportunities.

Our passion must be engaged in the here and now, but tempered by the realization that the horizon of lasting change is distant. Driven by intolerance of existing conditions. Subdued by the complexities of a significant restructuring of power, prerogatives and privileges.

Fourth, he suggested not to underestimate the difficulty of moving from collective grieving to focused and effective collective action.

Huge crowds gather on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, for a Black Lives Matter protest in the summer of 2020 (Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash)

The protest marches were moving, powerful, demanding. But it will take a commitment to organizational infrastructure in a myriad of forms in dozens and dozens of communities to link these expressions of mourning and intent to coalitions, alliances and networks capable of moving the fight forward. . This is one of the many important dimensions of how the Black Lives Matter movement evolved as it did – into true movement building that is beyond the capacity of individual nonprofits.

Fifth, it gave me a more precise appreciation of the power of the narrative to become an accelerator of policy change.

Whether The New York TimesProject 1619 . . . Ibram X. Kendi How to be an anti-racist and Stamped from the start . . . Isabel Wilkerson The heat of other suns and Caste . . . Ijeoma Oluo So you want to talk about race . . . Michelle alexander TThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blind . . . Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. . . or the growing number of films dealing with the roots of racism and enduring legacies, such as If Beale Street could speak, Just mercy, The Underground Railroad, Mud, and so many others. . . The scholarship-oriented popular culture has changed our racial vocabulary, our historical perspective, our basic abilities to navigate race issues with more honesty, understanding and depth.

Sixth, it amplified the crystal-clear truth that racial justice is inextricably linked with economic justice and that economic justice will in turn depend on our competence in local policy implementation.

Our decisions over the past decade at Kresge to build adjacencies with the private and public sectors are a prerequisite for realizing our aspirations to improve pathways to opportunity in low-wealth communities. We will only close the wealth gap by influencing the mechanism of capital flows under the domination of the public and private sectors. Our experiences with the flow of Payroll Protection Program Money or Investments in the Opportunity Zone or small business supports have all demonstrated unequivocally that it is both necessary and possible to create new ways of getting capital on the ground for those who have it most. need. We have broadened our political openness to take full account of the nuances of implementation.

Seventh, it supported my belief that this is a time and circumstance where philanthropy – in all its forms – matters.

It matters in its ability to invest in frontline racial justice workers. . . Use its institutional voice to contribute and strengthen a growing chorus of those seeking fundamental change. . . To remind elected officials that racial justice is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather a commitment to perpetrate countless continuing attacks on practices and policies that are too easily seen as intractable and beyond hope for reform. . . Providing spaces for extremely difficult conversations between those who otherwise might not have the financial luxury of participating in shared learning and a common goal.

And eighth, it reinforced how well Kresge’s internal journey in diversity, equity and inclusion has been and will continue to be.

We must continue to dig into the layers of iniquity that have accumulated throughout the history of this nation, pervading all aspects of community life. . . to explore our individual and shared assumptions and norms on inclusion. . . to question our talents, our purchasing and investment practices. . . and to reaffirm the centrality of racial equity in everything we do as an organization, both within our walls, in the community at large and through every program.

George Floyd’s death cannot become a mere departure from an immutable reality. We proceed with the conviction that he has not become that, and will not be – that he rather moves us with greater intentionality and with greater speed along the arc of justice towards which leans lean. Dr King’s moral universe.

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