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What will we tell the children?

“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”

— James Baldwin

Seared into my mind are the images of black and brown people dying and their anguished loved ones grieving yet another loss. But one picture from recent

days stands out for me: one of a young black boy holding a sign that says, “Am I next?” Today, I want to respond to this young black boy by saying, “We will do right by you. We will do more for you. We will do better for you! We recommit ourselves to you with every breath.”

As an educator and leader at a non-profit organization that cares deeply about young children, I feel we must do everything we can to prevent hate and fear of death for children who deserve to grow up with love and to always feel safe and protected. In our organization, we acknowledge the pain and trauma that black and brown children and families experience daily. We also acknowledge that what we say and do with white children greatly benefits a more equitable society and teaches them how to exist in this diverse world. When we stay with this, hold space for conversation, commit to more learning, and show up differently than we have before, we can bring about systems change for all.

These systems have perpetuated the racism that makes black children feel unsafe, that keeps them from opportunities to achieve their full potential. Historically, these murders and injustices come from a pattern of institutionalized racism that limits people of color at every level: employment, housing, health care and education. People create the systems, but the systems still are not for all people. Black infants are dying at a higher rate than white infants, black boys in preschool are disciplined differently than white boys and are expelled more often, and school districts with the largest populations of Black, Latinx and Native American children receive $1,800 less per student on average.

As individuals working in organizations and systems, I offer these questions to reflect upon. What will we tell the children? How might these questions help us really show our children that we are in solidarity:

  • Will we hold the critical dialogue that is needed around history and facts, so we can better understand the systems and the voice of people within those systems?
  • Will our policies and practices be grounded in diversity all year long and not just during Black History Month?
  • Will we challenge the white-dominant processes that make decisions for children without their families’ voices included?
  • How will we engage Black, Indigenous, and Latinx led and under-resourced organizations and members of the community?
  • Will we step away from white dominant processes and try on new approaches that do not center whiteness?
  • How will we hold our decision makers, board members, and staff accountable and rooted in the principles of equity?
  • Will our brochures, websites, the data we use and the stories we share be diverse and empowering?

And, because we must breathe and push forward with action, I ask: How will we step into this work? How will we go beyond this moment and be part of a movement that centers humanity, values black lives and moves us all from anguish to action? How will we go beyond just issuing a statement? Our children deserve a dignified future and black and white children deserve a future not riddled with guilt, nor inherited fear of their neighbor, but to live in a world where equity is at the center.

With strong, brave hearts, rooted in what we believe, we at Smart Beginnings Virginia Peninsula will do the work, hold the conversations, fight, educate, organize, and advocate. Our children’s future demands it!

Diane Umstead, Executive Director

Habitat for Humanity - Wikipedia

Habitat’s commitment: Be actively anti-racist and affirm that Black Lives Matter

Habitat for Humanity is more than a nonprofit housing ministry. We have a vision of a world where we share one humanity, and that’s a world that we believe in and fight for every day. We are a faith-based organization, but we realize that faith alone is not enough. Our faith must be coupled with works and action.

As we share in the sadness, anger and uncertainty that have rocked communities across the United States since the killing of George Floyd — protests of the systemic and racial injustice that have infused and informed the life of our nation — we recognize that we must do more. I must do more.

In recent days, I have fallen to my knees in frequent prayer and reflection, seeking God’s guidance. Guidance to be a better listener. Guidance to be a better leader. Guidance to truly understand that my path as a white man has not been the path of so many of my fellow citizens and that my own experiences cannot be the measure of their journeys; that we must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And, finally, guidance to own where Habitat must go from here.

I know that I must change. I know that Habitat must change. And we must commit to tangible action.

We must commit to doing the work in our practices, our programs and our networks that brings equity to our efforts and helps bring justice to the communities in which we work. We must, throughout our ministry, do a better job of connecting issues of racial and social injustice with historic barriers to affordable housing and working to eradicate those barriers.

Historic discrimination in U.S. housing policy — particularly discrimination against Black Americans — is one of the chief drivers of racial inequities that persist today. Organizations like Habitat that work on housing must understand that history, and it must inform our work moving forward.

We want each of you, and all of our friends and supporters, to know the decisions we will make in how to proceed. Our answers cannot always be immediate, but I promise you that we will communicate with transparency.

Steps we are undertaking now:

  • We have created a Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, a new position that will be posted on habitat.org/careers. This new role will serve as a member of our senior leadership team and will report to our chief operating officer.
  • We recommit ourselves to taking bold actions to ensure racial equity through our collective advocacy efforts, specifically the Cost of Home campaign. The Cost of Home Policy Platform states, “Advocates and policymakers must acknowledge and address the well-documented patterns of racial discrimination in housing and land use policies — at all levels of government — that still impact the makeup and opportunities of our communities.” We will work to effectively address and respond to these urgent needs.
  • Our recently launched +You thought leadership series will seek to inform and educate our audiences on significant and pressing issues in housing today — health, the impacts of COVID-19 on low-income families and particularly in communities of color, the role of redlining and racial inequality in housing disparities, and more.
  • On Friday, June 19, Habitat for Humanity International will mark Juneteenth — the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States — with a Day of Reflection, Action and Solidarity. Our staff members are encouraged to use this day in a way that is most meaningful to them. Going forward, we will observe Juneteenth annually.

Every day and from now on, I and the leaders of our ministry commit to creating an environment where humility, open communication, dialogue and listening become our standard. In addition to being a space where people of all races, all faiths and all backgrounds can come together in common cause, we commit to being actively anti-racist and to affirming, through word and action, that Black Lives Matter and that our communities and systems must further this fundamental truth. We will ensure that our work is infused with courage and accountability so that we make our strong commitment to equity and true community a reality.

I promise to hold myself accountable for leading this organization to a better embodiment of these principles, and I seek your prayers, patience, support and help.

As we take up this work, we are reflecting on this list (click here to read full list at end of letter), endorsed by the leaders of our Black Employee Success Team employee resource group. We offer it to you for your consideration as well.

Jonathan T.M. Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International (June 12, 2020)