I am a community servant. But I must admit I am a wounded servant. I suffer from prejudice, anger, frustration, hurt and a deep distrust of systems because of a pre-existing condition called racism.
I have lived and worked in Oakland for many years – long enough to now be considered an elder in the community. One of my proudest moments was joining with a group of men to launch the Brotherhood of Elders Network, an intergenerational network of men of African ancestry who foster environments where Black boys and young men are empowered to flourish. And I am a proud trustee of The California Wellness Foundation. These roles inform much of my thinking about the crisis we are currently experiencing and how we can go about healing the wounds inflicted on those who serve our communities.
We are living in traumatic times, fighting two deadly viruses – COVID-19 and RACISM-2020. One is less than one year old and attacks the body; the other is older than America and destroys the mind, body and soul.
Racism has long been part of the American story. Our Native brothers and sisters were the first to be targeted by white colonizers. Native communities were purposefully traumatized through theft of land, broken treaties, blankets infected with smallpox, and murder. They suffered systemic efforts to extinguish their culture and diminish their souls through forced re-education; yet unvanquished, they continue to fight for survival today.
And then Africans were brought to the Americas, shackled in chains in the bottom of ships and sold to the highest bidder to be worked as machines for white enslavers. Over time the physical shackles were removed and replaced with the structural shackles of Jim Crow and its variations: segregation, poor housing, hard living conditions, little or no educational opportunities, poor health, food deserts, and imprisonment.
Our racist history is painful to recall, and it continues to be written today. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks. And beyond these tragic deaths that have captured headlines, there is daily pain and trauma taking place in all communities of color. Living in a toxic environment, you get angry, depressed, bound by a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. You lose your sense of self-worth and begin to harbor a sense of self-hate. This complex of “dis-ease” from daily trauma can lead to self-destruction and the destruction of others within your community. Our children, raised in our racist culture, suffer from both the threat of physical harm and internalized oppression.
This is the moment to invest time and resources into community healing. A spark has ignited a renewed call for justice in cities and towns throughout America. We must take advantage of this new momentum to reform, rebuild and heal.
I am inspired by the work of Cal Wellness grantees. The Flourish Agenda in Oakland, where I serve on the board of directors, provides a healing space for Black youth to bond, celebrate their Blackness and learn how to transform their schools and communities. The Urban Peace Institute in Los Angeles engages former gang members in the heart-centered work of being peacemakers in their communities, committed to healing the generations to come.
From the experiences of these organizations and the groundbreaking efforts of others across California, we know what it takes to heal communities that have borne the impacts of racism for generations:
- It’s understanding how to tap into and build upon indigenous knowledge;
- It’s giving yourself to the community at-large by being lovingly honest;
- It’s confronting White fragility and understanding the difference between cultural awareness, cultural humility and cultural competence; and
- It’s engaging in restorative justice.
Philanthropy can play an important role in supporting communities as they undertake this work of healing. But philanthropy must do more than write checks. Our foundation leaders must undertake a rigorous self-examination of how philanthropy does its work. Foundation leaders must ask themselves whether their practices advance healing and justice or whether they sustain a racist status quo by supporting the systems that have helped entrench discrimination and disinvestment. And they need to change the direction of where their grant dollars go.
As a trustee, I lovingly push Cal Wellness to do more and give more so as to meet the challenges we face in this revolutionary moment. I’m determined to make a difference whenever I can, wherever I can, however I can by any means necessary.
Based on remarks given at webinar titled When Two Public Health Crises Collide: Healing from Trauma, presented by the Hope and Heal Fund, a collaborative fund solely dedicated to the prevention of gun violence in California.