I write this today with an admittedly heavy, heavy heart. It certainly is no secret that our country is experiencing a level of tumult not seen this visibly in generations, in the midst of a global pandemic, no less.
I am personally experiencing tremendous sadness, anger, confusion and a host of other emotions, and I suspect many of you are as well. We live in extraordinarily difficult times, but we also seem to be on the precipice of opportunity. Systemic racism in our society is finally being acknowledged, to a degree, and real work must begin in every corner of our country.
I began to pen this message prior to the killing of George Floyd, to shine a light on the disproportionate impacts of this novel coronavirus on black and brown communities. There are a number of underlying reasons, too numerous for me to list, but the very underlying conditions that have resulted in people of color perishing at higher rates from the virus are the same conditions that led to the death of Mr. Floyd and the subsequent protests we have witnessed over the past several days.
It is impossible to be black in this society and live without undue stress, flat out impossible. What are normal activities over the course of a day can bring upon dread and anxiety to those of us who are black. Driving, jogging, barbecuing, birdwatching, sleeping in your own bed in your home, hanging with family playing video games in your living room- you get the picture. Or do you? The phrase “I can’t breathe” is not just something that we’ve grown too accustomed to hearing as yet another black man is publicly killed at the hands of police. Sadly, it is how your black and brown brothers and sisters feel throughout a good part of each and every day.
Is it normal to be on the verge of a panic attack if it seems that your spouse is taking too long to collect the mail? Maybe, especially if you’re the only black family – for 15 years – to live in your neighborhood, and it’s dark outside. Is it normal to teach your children how not to look threatening – no hoodies, no headphones? It is if your brown-skinned son is growing into a beautiful young man but “fits the profile.” Is it normal to experience immense dread before walking into work as an African American female with a new hairstyle? It is if you know you will face a million questions about your hair, and people who feel like they have the right to touch your hair without any consideration for how intrusive and inappropriate that is.
So, what do we do? How do we bring about change? How do we end systemic racism?
One step is to look at systemic inequality when it comes to access. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way of Tarrant County spent a considerable amount of time sharing our findings of a nearly year-long community assessment. The assessment highlighted five key areas where our community continues to struggle: access to healthcare, education and quality childcare, access to affordable housing and transportation solutions – and basic needs. None of these issues are new, nor are they limited to one population. They all, however, disproportionately impact people of color. So, while United Way isn’t a civil rights or social justice organization, it is important we call attention to how these issues are inextricably tied to the health and wellbeing of our entire community. United, we can improve lives and opportunities for all Tarrant County residents by recognizing the link between public health and racial and economic equity.
We are committed to do the work, and we invite you to unite with us to ensure all communities have the opportunity to thrive. Let’s work!
Leah King is president and CEO of United Way of Tarrant County. www.unitedwaytarrant.org