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Race Matters

A couple of weeks ago, a number of the Bread for the City staffers met up at Freedom Plaza to participate in the rally to end police brutality against black men. After some thought, I gave the staff permission to join the rally under the Bread for the City banner, rather than insisting that they participate as mere private citizens.

I had initially hesitated to give my permission for them to walk as Bread employees, not because I didn’t like the cause or because I was worried about alienating some donors, which it very well might. No, I hesitated because I fear that the idea of marching regarding police brutality is too narrow of a message. Even one life of an unarmed citizen lost at the hands of the very people paid to protect us is tragic, but of course we know these tragedies have been both numerous and irreversible.

Protest photoI also believe they are really just horrific symptoms of the systemically brutal socio-economic oppression experienced by people of color in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and yes even in the former chocolate city, Washington, DC.

I know we Americans don’t like talking about race. It is uncomfortable territory. As a black man, I know all too well that it’s dangerous. As we’ve seen with racial profiling of people like Forest Whitaker, there is an undeniable racial bias, often implicit, that doesn’t care if you’re successful or “respectable.” With all the privileges of being the CEO of a major non-profit, I have felt the sting of the kind of implicit bias that could lead a woman walking on the same block with me at night, a person seeing me driving through the predominantly white neighborhood I live in, or even a police officer sworn to protect my rights as a citizen, to perceive me as a threat.

But again, I believe that the greater cost of this racial bias, or what many would call this kind of racism, is that it is also at play in all of the systems in our racialized communities, states and country.

The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, have created an opportunity for America to talk about how race continues to be the determining factor not only who lives or dies when confronted by police on the streets, but just as often who is hired or fired, who is poor or not, who is sentenced to prison or not, can afford to live in gentrifying cities like DC or not, and even which 1st grader is going to be suspended or not. The brutal truth behind just about every socio-economic indicator is that people of color fare far worse than white people.

rally against police brutality 4Racism is built in to the fabric of our lives. It limits our options and shapes our choices. The white men who built the institutions and policies that our country was founded on designed them in a way that would benefit them – not always intentionally but sometimes explicitly.

Here at Bread, we know that we’re an institution shaped by the legacy of racism. We also believe that we can intentionally embody racial equity — whether that’s providing culturally-relevant services to everyone that walks through our door, being a good employer to our diverse staff, or advocating for policies to dismantle racist systems.

I hope that by adding my voice to this vital national conversation, we can continue to move the needle on racial equity when it comes to policing, as well as all of the other systems affecting the lives of black folks. I know that now that I’ve started to share my story, I don’t plan to stop until race isn’t a determining factor for health, educational attainment, or career.

Will you join me?

At the Service to Justice Conference on January 30-31st, Bread for the City staff, clients and funders, will lead a discussion on the importance of anti-racist organizing at non-profit organizations. We would love to have our donors and volunteers, skeptics and supporters in the audience. Register here. I hope to see you there.

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