I am encouraged by how many conversations are happening about racism right now. Perhaps you agree, perhaps you disagree, perhaps you’re wondering why I would find this encouraging. I grew up hearing that racism is a disease so to put it in perspective ponder this question: If you have cancer and aren’t willing to admit that you do, what are the chances that you’ll get the necessary treatment?
This is why I’m encouraged by the fact that all over the country people are talking about racism; how pervasive it is, how systematically entrenched it is, how little progress we’ve made over the last several decades. People who were in denial are taking a good, hard look in the mirror and finally opening their eyes to reality… some people. One really good example of this is the former Baltimore police officer, Michael Wood, who is speaking out about how utterly and thoroughly discriminatory police practices are. The Young Turks host, Cenk Uygur, conducted a lengthy interview with him which you can find here, where he said that police officers are trained to view themselves as an occupying force and to view everyone else as the enemies. He doesn’t dance around race AT ALL, nor does he pretend he wasn’t involved in carrying out racial profiling. He is very open about the fact that he did it just like everyone else but that at some point the shittiness of how they were treating members of the black community sunk in. He points out that the only people who are surprised by what he has to say are white people because people of color have lived this reality for a very long time. It’s frustrating beyond words that it takes a white person speaking out for reality to be acknowledged by those in power.
I’m not really sure how many people know that there was an event at Cleveland State University this past weekend called The Movement for Black Lives National Convening. I found out about this early enough to look into it with the thought of joining in some productive conversations but this convening wasn’t about everyone getting together; it was for Black people and people of African descent. White people were asked to stay away, so I did. Obviously, I can’t tell you what happened inside this convening other than that the list of speakers included Michael Brown Jr.’s father, Tamir Rice’s mother, and Eric Garner’s mother. The purpose of the convening is described on the website as “an opportunity for us to reflect on our histories of struggle, build a sense of fellowship that transcends geographical boundaries and begin to heal from the many traumas we face.” Aside from the official website, I found a site with several pictures from the event which you can see here. I read an article in Cleveland.com written the day the convening began so there wasn’t much detail about what went on (if you don’t want to get any more angry, DO NOT read the comments to this particular article, because they will make you mad). I also found a couple of references to a transit cop pepper spraying conference attendees following the closing ceremonies; which is not surprising in today’s climate but nonetheless upsetting.
Having conversations about discrimination is not easy and most definitely requires the ability to effectively self-reflect, but I truly believe that what comes out of discussion and disagreement is progress. Of course, for there to be progress, there has to be open mindedness on all sides and after reading those article comments I’m feeling less optimistic about that as a reality… But the following quote has always resonated with me in moments like this so I’ll share it with you:
I’ve been doing some research lately about conversations on race happening in the Cleveland area. That’s sort of a difficult thing to search for and I haven’t had a whole lot of luck. My guess is that there are quite a few churches, and youth groups, and community centers discussing race within their communities, but not necessarily advertising it for outsiders like myself to join in.
I did, however, find an initiative by the Cleveland YWCA called “It’s Time to Talk”. Did you know that YWCA’s motto is “eliminating racism, empowering women”? I had no idea, but that makes me immediate love them! Check out this promotional video.
From their website: “Research shows that when individuals develop cultural competency skills, they develop awareness, knowledge, skills and strategies that will be effective in addressing racism as well as other areas of prejudice and discrimination affecting our community.” The YWCA offers a program entitled “Developing Cultural Competencies Workshops”. Titles of these workshops include:
- Racism in Northeast Ohio: The Economic Impact
- Unconscious Bias: Causes, Impact and Remedies
- Strategies for Difficult Conversations
They also hold an annual event in February where local “corporations, nonprofit organizations, schools, religious and community groups” come to together to learn and discuss how to “improve race relations at work, in the community, and with family and friends.” I’m hoping to be able to attend the 2nd annual “It’s Time to Talk” in 2016 (fingers crossed). They offer workshops for organizations and businesses and opportunities for local women to network. This event is called “Meet, Greet, and Eat: Transforming Lives”. Unfortunately it happens while I’m at work. The next one is August 6th from 11:30 – 1:00.
The YWCA also works with foster children in a variety of ways. One such initiative is called “A Place 4 Me” through which a number of local organizations got together and created a strategic plan for “preventing and eliminating youth homelessness”.
I assure you that I’ll be spending some time with this amazing organization in the near future and will let you all know about it when I do.
HEAL: community organizing around health and wellness
College Now: making college more accessible to Cleveland youth