By Donte Hilliard,
Director of Mission Impact, YWCA USA
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
– U. S. Declaration of Independence 1776
YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
– Adopted by the General Assembly, 2009
If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.
– Zora Neal Hurston
Once again, an unarmed Black person is dead at the hands of local law enforcement agents. How many spectacles of bullet-riddled, broken Black bodies must we endure? How many cablecast reports and tweeted acts of grief and rage must we consume before we declare it is too much? How much evidence do we need before we admit that the United States of America has a problem?
Unfortunately, we at the YWCA USA know all too well that racialized community violence is neither novel nor rare for people of color in the U.S. Even as we join the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrate their solidarity with the Brown Family (on the ground and online) as they grieve the loss of Michael Brown and seek justice, we know there are innumerable victims and survivors of this type of systemic violence who will never be acknowledged on a national platform.
We also know, that despite what continues to be revealed about the specifics of this incident in Ferguson, Mo., the script is uncomfortably predictable:
- A person of color is racially profiled, surveilled and killed;
- Despite being unarmed, he/she is accused of being a threat or threatening;
- Peaceful, organized community action is ignored — framed as a riot rather than a protest or civic engagement, or rendered moot because of other acts (such as looting);
- The local community is admonished for “rushing to judgment” and not waiting on the facts;
- Images of the dead person of color surface that portray him or her as a scary, menacing, or gang-affiliated;
- Local and national law enforcement agents and agencies will seek to frame the death in a race-neutral context, denying the reality of institutional and systemic racism; we will be asked to see victims, survivors and perpetrators only as individuals and not as members of social groups of varying institutional and structural power, while simultaneously being bombarded with racially-coded words and images;
- Taxpayers will be treated as “enemy combatants,” rather than citizens who are guaranteed the right to gather, speak, and protest per our founding and governing documents.
What do we say and do in the face of this gut-wrenching, all-too-familiar cycle of violence against the psyche and soma of people of color?
We at the YWCA USA dare not desecrate the lives and memories of the victims and survivors of racialized community violence with hollow platitudes. Rather, we seek to transform our anger, confusion, and despair into action.
Here’s what we can do:
- Locally, those near Ferguson can contact the YWCA of Metro St. Louis. This YWCA has a long history of working on racial justice and to end discrimination in St. Louis, through workplace seminars, hosting speakers, guided dialogues, and more. Amy Hunter, Director of Racial Justice, leads these groups to “increase understanding of the institutionalized and systemic impact of racism, work towards peace and healing and positively impact the community we all live in.” Earlier this week, she joined other community leaders at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant for a forum with Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.
- No matter where you live, please take action today and tell Congress the time is now to end racial profiling—a United States problem that destroys American values of fairness and justice. Congress must take action and pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year. This bill requires that local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds maintain adequate cultural competency policies and procedures for eliminating racial profiling. In addition, this bill allows victims to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief.
- If you are or aspire to be a White racial justice ally, you MUST show up. Racism is a problem for all of us. People of color cannot be the only ones putting their bodies on the line.
Do not let this movement end here. Racialized community violence must not be allowed to remain a normal part of our daily lives. We must come together and continue to fight for the fair and equitable treatment of all.
The YWCA is a social justice organization and movement with over 150 years of experience providing direct service to, building with, and advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our society: low wage workers, the unemployed, women and girls, people of color, non-native English speakers, members of the military, abuse survivors, etc. As a social justice organization, we have a deep and abiding commitment to working on issues of economic, gender, and racial justice — particularly in the places where these systems of oppression overlap each other.
As an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, we will not allow issues of racial profiling, hate crimes and/or community violence be placed on the back burner.
Donte brings more than 10 years of administrative leadership in the areas of: Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice; education/training in African American, Gender, and Religious Studies; knowledge and application of various social change models; history of advocacy for historically underrepresented groups; and coalition building within and across various communities. Donte has notable experience as faculty, trainer, community volunteer and activist, researcher and author, and has received many awards and honors. He is the co-founder and Chair of the Institute for Justice Education & Transformation (IJET), an initiative of the UW Madison Multicultural Student Center, that provides and supports opportunities for deep reflection and action around issues of Social Justice for underrepresented communities and their allies. Donte has a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, a M.A. in African American studies from Ohio State University, and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary.